Underpaid council staff to get pay-off

HUNDREDS of underpaid Wakefield Council workers have been granted a pay-off which brings the total cost of settling an equal pay wrangle to £30m.

A group of 1,773 staff represented by public service union Unison will receive between a few hundred and 15,000 each after a legal claim for back pay and compensation was settled this week.

Librarians, teaching assistants and school technicians are among the group, the last of around 4,000 staff who lodged claims under the 1997 Single Status Agreement – a law which brings male and female employees’ pay into line.

Female staff who had been underpaid for years will receive back pay, while staff who will see their wage decrease when pay scales are adjusted will be compensated.

Negotiations have so far cost the council more than 33,000 in legal fees – and bosses estimate the total cost will reach 30m.

Chris Jenkinson, regional officer for Unison, said: “This is all about equal pay because historically there has been discrimination. We are pleased that this settlement has been reached in relation to the new pay structure.”

Wakefield Council said the 30m was spread across several financial years and had formed a key part of the council’s medium-term financial plan for a number of years.

But the council has admitted that equal pay settlements have led to job losses after it emerged they spent 3.4m on redundancy payments in two years. Figures obtained by the Express show that 374,214 was paid to eight senior management staff in severance payments in that period.

Hilary Brealey, the council’s service director for human resources, said: “Wakefield Council has complied with the legislation and the national agreement in a way that upholds the principles of equal pay regardless of gender, while minimising the impact of doing so on service delivery and improvement.”

She said any staff reductions were achieved through voluntary redundancy, early retirement and changes of hours as far as possible.

She added: “The cost of all voluntary redundancies and early retirements that have resulted from this has been far outweighed by the savings achieved.

“The latest round of settlements has no additional impact on our service and budget planning.”