New local authority pay structures could open the way for backdated compensation claims

The deadline of the 31 March has now passed for local authorities to introduce equal pay structures on a voluntary basis in accordance with the 2004 Local Government Pay Agreement. But while some organisations may now be breathing a sigh of relief, this could be short-lived as the new pay structures could come under challenge from employees pursuing equal pay and sex discrimination claims that, if are successful, have the potential to backdate pay by up to six years.

The results of cases such as Allen v GMB could play a significant role in determining what action employers and unions will face if individuals feel they haven’t been compensated fairly. Under the aforementioned sex discrimination case, the tribunal found the GMB union had indirectly discriminated against some female Middlesbrough Council staff by failing to explain to members a deal with the council on back pay that protected men’s pay and bonuses more than women’s.

The GMB has now appealed against the decision and a ruling from the employment appeal tribunal was being awaited as Employee Benefits went to press. The result could well influence whether further claims around pay and bonuses are brought.

The pay reviews have encouraged staff, predominately women, to make comparisons and, consequently, launch further equal pay claims. Many local authorities are now facing claims from women advised by solicitors operating on a no-win, no-fee basis. Jon Sutcliffe, principal strategic adviser at Local Government Employers, an organisation representing local authorities, said: "Male groups have traditionally received bonus payments on top of their basic pay."

A spokesman for the Equal Opportunities Commission, said women should not be blamed for taking up no-win, no-fee cases against their employer, but the outcome of these could determine how smoothly the public sector’s new pay structures are accepted.

Employers could also face potential strike action if the way they have re-aligned pay and pay offers are deemed unacceptable by union members. Sutcliffe said that unions, including Unison, the Transport & General Workers’ Union and the GMB, have a national protocol agreement whereby they will target those local authorities they believe have made "insufficient progress towards completing the pay reviews".

Annika Westerberg, information consultant at Hay Group, said it is still too early to predict what impact the local authority equal pay structures will have on job losses or pay cuts. "I think the authorities are going to try and find as beneficial a solution as possible.They would like to do the right thing, but I don’t think it’s going to be the right thing at any cost."