24 Oct 2012

Equal pay ruling ‘a great gain’ for women

An equal pay ruling in the supreme court represents a “great gain” for women, the granddaughter of a Suffragette tells Channel 4 News.

The ruling is being hailed by campaigners as the biggest change to equal pay legislation since it was introduced in 1970.

It means 174 former Birmingham City Council workers can go ahead with compensation claims over bonuses which they were not paid.

Last November, the court of appeal said scores of cooks, cleaners, catering and care staff previously employed by the local authority were entitled to launch pay equality compensation claims in the high court.

The city council challenged the decision in the supreme court, but a panel of five justices dismissed the appeal by a majority.

Lots of women find out they have been underpaid more than six months after they’ve left their job. Chris Benson, Leigh Day & Co

Chris Benson, partner in the employment team at Leigh Day & Co, said the ruling was “massive” and that employers across the country who had been unlawfully underpaying female staff should be “very fearful”.

The granddaughter of Suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst, Dr Helen Pankhurst, told Channel 4 News the ruling represented a “great gain” for women.

But she warned against complacency: “There’s still work to be done in terms of economic equality.

“If you look at issues like the pay gap, it’s still 15 per cent for full-time employees and a 30 per cent gap for part-time men and women.”

Landmark ruling

Mr Benson estimates the ruling will have implications for “tens of thousands” of women across the country who have been underpaid.

Previously only those who took cases to an employment tribunal within six months of leaving their jobs were eligible for compensation.

To get around this deadline, women started actions for damages in the high court, which has a six-year deadline for launching claims.

Birmingham city council challenged this but failed in its legal bid to block the claims.

Mr Benson said: “Lots of women find out they have been underpaid more than six months after they’ve left their job and so the six month deadline was too tight.”

Joan Clulow worked for 25 years as a home help for Birmingham City Council:

"It's a happy day today although it's upset me a bit to think we've got it after this time.

"I'm angry at how they treated us for what we've done for them," she said.

"Some of the jobs you did weren't very nice but you got on with it.

"We've always been there for them and never refused. It was always a team effort."

Financial implications

Lawyers estimate the claim for the 174 former workers could be around £2m.

Leigh Day & Co is also representing another thousand women who worked at that local authority who could collectively be entitled to around £10m.

The judgement represents a financial headache for the council which issued a press release on Tuesday saying it had “an immediate challenge for next year to save around £120m”. Total projected cuts for the next six years stand at £600m.

Mr Benson told Channel 4 News that the women “had been waiting long enough” and urged Birmingham City Council to settle the claims.

In response to the court ruling the local authority issued a statement: “The council is reviewing this judgement in detail before considering its options going forward and will be making no further comment at this stage”.