A MULTIMILLION-POUND bill is set to be handed to Sunderland City Council after 1,100 women won an equal pay dispute.
An employment tribunal has ruled in favour of female council workers who claimed they had been victims of discrimination. They stand to claim a total of about £30million.
The tribunal’s decision opens the door to claims from hundreds of other workers.
The women first lodged their claims in 2005, meaning the council will have to fork out for six years’ worth of compensation for underpayments in salaries, pensions contributions, redundancy payments and other compensations.
Stefan Cross, of Stefan Cross Solicitors Limited, said the council had amassed unnecessary costs and treated his clients badly by not settling the cases sooner.
“It’s an outrage,” he said. “All the other councils in the North East eventually settled.”
He added: “If you’re doing a job of an equal level to somebody else, then you should be paid the same unless there is a good reason for it – and that should not be dictated by sex.”
The claims stem from a disparity in pay between male-dominated jobs such as street sweepers, gardeners and security guards, and female-dominated roles such as carers, cleaners and teaching assistants.
The women’s claim is that the council failed to recognise their jobs were of equal value to those carried out predominantly by men.
Mr Cross said as the issue was about the value of the jobs, not those who did them. Men working in traditionally female jobs would also be able to claim in what is known as “piggybacking”.
He said the tribunal’s decision meant council chiefs would need to overhaul their pay-grade system.
He is urging council workers to make use of the decision and come forward to claim what is rightfully theirs.
The tribunal’s decision comes after 13 months of deliberating and hearings lasting two years.
There is also another set of claims, dating from before 2005, which are due to go to the Court of Appeal next month. Those claims are also potentially worth millions of pounds.
The “Tranche One” claimants have already won an employment tribunal, but Sunderland City Council has appealed unsuccessfully a number of times.
He estimates the council’s legal bills will already run into millions. He said he had poured hundreds of pounds of his own money into representing his clients.
Sunderland City Council leader Paul Watson said: “We can confirm we have received the Employment Tribunal’s Judgment. We are currently considering the detail of what is a very lengthy document.”
FEMALE workers are demanding council chiefs pay up instead of mounting an appeal over the tribunal decision.
Dinner ladies, care workers and cleaners say they have waited long enough for the money they are due – and have defended their reasons for claiming.
Linda Wood, 61, a site supervisor from Concord, said: “All I want is what’s rightfully mine, and I think they should pay out. We’ve waited long enough – this has been going on for seven years.”
The great-grandmother, who lives with husband Thomas, carries out cleaning duties at a school and is responsible for supervising 15 other members of staff.
Linda said her job was just as demanding as a street sweeper – if not more so – and wants to be paid the same.
“If a pupil’s sick in a classroom, we have to clean it up,” she said. “We have to clean dirty toilets where they’ve wet on the floor, or even not used the toilet.”
Marion Waterhouse, 61, from Hetton, a school catering assistant and former dining centre manager, said: “I would say my job is of a same level as a gardener or a streetsweeper – they do do a difficult job, but ours is hard work too.”
The widowed grandmother said people did not realise how much physical work was involved, including moving dining furniture, and the level of responsibility in working with children.
Lynn Flett, 38, a school cook who lives of Essen Way, said the claimants had been portrayed as greedy by some, which was unfair.
The mum-of-two, who lives with husband Darren, 39, a crane commissioner for Liebherr, said her job involved working in a hot kitchen, often leaving her with burns and cuts, and was a big responsibility.
“You have to be very careful. If you’re a gardener, it’s not that easy to kill someone – it’s very easy to kill someone if you’re a cook,” she said.
“It’s also a very physically-demanding job. You’re on your feet all the time and I don’t think people realise how heavy a pan full of water and 10kg of potatoes is to lift yourself.”