Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Equal Pay - the Allen decision and debate within the trade unions

The long awaited judgement of the Employment Appeals Tribunal in the case of Allen –v- GMB is now available online. Before I venture any opinion on this matter please remember that this is a personal blog and the opinions I express are my own and are not expressed on behalf of UNISON.

UNISON’s position on Equal Pay is set out on the website, this includes specific guidance for individual members and a persuasive riposte to the attempts by “no win no fee” solicitors to encourage members to litigate against the Union.

The Allen case is one such attempt to sue the GMB (and there are similar cases against UNISON and the TGWU) alleging that the Unions have failed to fight for equal pay with sufficient vigour and then alleging that this amounts to unlawful discrimination.

As far as I can see the Employment Appeals Tribunal seems to have demolished this argument fairly well, in so doing they have supported the right of a trade union to determine priorities in negotiations. The question of how that is done, and by whom, is a question for trade union members (not the courts).

Not everyone is happy with the approach of the trade unions to equal pay – particularly in relation to Single Status in local government. The implementation of Single Status has provoked and is provoking industrial action, and is causing headaches for local authorities in, for example, Wales, the South East and the South West.

Causing headaches for employers is no bad thing – although not of course an end in itself in most circumstances…However if we are going to get the best deal in achieving equal pay then this will be achieved through trade union action.

As trade unionists we need to debate our approach to achieving equal pay and to decide democratically on our priorities, strategy and tactics. Litigation against the unions is not the way to resolve our differences on this question.

This decision ought to pave the way for the democratic debate about our approach to this question which we have been denying ourselves for months. The lobby of Parliament earlier this month was a good start – now perhaps we can start sharing, officially, full information about Single Status negotiations in every authority and brainstorming how to get the best deal for our members in open discussion rather than avoiding public discussion because of pending litigation.

But as I said, all of this is just a personal opinion…

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