The Times - October 14th 2006. By Alan Hamilton.
News that a council is paying street workers up to £53,000 has prompted a battle for equal pay.
THE underpaid school dinner ladies of Birmingham are on the warpath. Their target is the squad of unskilled male fat cats who paint white lines on the road and wash the traffic bollards.
Fifty low-paid women working for the city council on a basic salary of £9,500 a year have brought a legal claim for compensation and equal pay against their employer after learning that their male counterparts could earn up to £53,000 through a complex system of overtime and bonuses.
Since a pay survey disclosed the earnings potential of some of the council’s manual workers the men have been falling sick with stress. They claim that abuse from members of the public as they polish the city’s “keep left” signs has reduced some to tears.
Such wimpish behaviour cuts no ice with the women who, backed by the Transport and General Workers’ Union, have gone to law to seek similar earnings opportunities and compensation for the disparity that they say has existed since the passage of the Equal Pay Act in 1970. If their action succeeds in full, the women could expect payments of up to £49,000.
Tina Kelly, the deputy cook at Kings Heath Primary School, is one of the claimants. She takes home about £180 a week but believes that a man doing a similar job would be paid twice as much.
“What bloke in his right mind is going to work for £9,500 a year?” Ms Kelley said. “It’s not an easy job; in fact, it’s a hard slog. All we want is fair and equal pay. We are being treated like second-class citizens and the council should not be allowed to get away with this inequality.”
Steve Hopkins, a solicitor at Carvers, the city law firm acting for the women, said: “There are certain jobs at the council that are the exclusive domain of women. We are talking about cleaners, cooks, care assistants and lunchtime school supervisors. They do jobs that are every bit as valuable and difficult as jobs done by men.”
The wages of male council employees are boosted by £90 to £160 a week by a complicated series of bonuses.
Mr Hopkins said: “Bonuses should be one-off rewards for hitting an agreed target or reflecting extra effort. The bonuses these guys get are paid week in, week out for simply turning up to do their job. It is not a genuine bonus at all.”
Many workers are paid extra allowances for working unsocial hours. One worker was paid an extra £4,500 a year just for being on call in case a council gutter needed a late-night clean. One unnamed employee and part-time union official is reported to have taken home £91,000 one year, more than the £67,000 salary of the leader of Birmingham City Council.
Councillors have admitted that the payments system, the result of negotiations with trade unions 15 or more years ago, are a shambles. They have promised to introduce a single-status agreement by next April, which would give equal pay for equal work.
Alan Rudge, a Conservative councillor and the city’s cabinet member for human resources, admitted that the system was a mess and that he was trying to redress the balance.
Earlier this week Peter Dunn, the union convener for Unison, told of one of his members who had received so much abuse from members of the public that he felt that he could no longer go to work and had taken a few days’ holiday.
The city council declined to say whether he would be receiving sick pay.