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The Working Life of Christina McKelvie MSP
30th July 2013

You would think that the idea of equal pay for work of equal value and regardless of gender, age, ethnic origins, religion, nationality, sexual orientation or any other variable would be part of the fabric of civilised society.

The Scottish Government has done and continues to do everything it can to redress inequality at every level, but when bad practice is actually built into the structures of a Labour-controlled Council, then we’re truly up against it.

The South Lanarkshire Council leader, Labour’s Eddie McAvoy,

( has already wasted £100,000 of his Council’s money – your money – to take Mark Irvine to the UK Supreme Court. It may well cost the Council another £100,000 to settle the bill with the Information Commission.

Why? Because the tenacious 72 year old lodged a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to find out about how the Council’s staff pay banding scales operate. You can find out more about Mr. Irvine’s campaign on his blogspot at

He wants to know whether men and women receive equal pay for similar work, as is their legal right, enshrined in legislation both here and in the EU. He is angry about the money wasted on what was always going to be a failed objection and points out that it would have been better spent in trying to offset some of the budgetary cuts being forced upon Councils by the Westminster government. He says:

“South Lanarkshire council tax payers could be forgiven for being angry. Such a sum of money would make a significant difference to any number of cash-strapped services funded by the council. This is the council, after all, that has warned 120 jobs are at risk as part of a £12m cuts package. Its legal costs are hefty and South Lanarkshire should not have risked incurring them; instead, it should have agreed to hand over the information when the Scottish Information Commissioner ordered it to do so.” 

The 1500 female staff fighting a £10 million back pay claim against the Council are a step or two further forward now. That South Lanarkshire Council saw fit to try to withhold information rather than openly and honestly provide it when the Scottish Information Commissioner originally ordered it to do so tells us a lot about attitudes to transparency in the Hamilton offices.

Justice is bigger than budgets. Every Council in the country is struggling to maintain services as Westminster cuts bite deeper and deeper into their local resources. So-called welfare reform is adding to the strain as social housing tenants try to cope with cuts to benefits that make rental payments more difficult than ever.

In this climate, it beggars belief that a Council leader should both try to hide information from the public and waste £200,000 in the process.

To add insult to injury, the FOI request is about getting justice for women seeking equal pay for equal work. We don’t know yet but I’m sure Mark Irvine will want to tell us just what South Lanarkshire Council’s methods of pay banding look like once he has the information in his hands. Soon, I hope.

Meanwhile, Westminster has moved to impose big fees on people who want to go to an employment tribunal because of a problem at work – which could be sexual harassment, discrimination, bullying, or an employer who is just not delivering on the equality agenda.

With an upfront payment of £1,200 just to start the process, the very people who are most likely to need those services – women on low pay – are going to be effectively denied it unless their trade union agrees to pick up the bill.

It’s another clear barrier to justice from the Coalition government. Should you wish to appeal the outcome, by the way, there’s another charge.

Alongside that, they’ve sneaked another little restriction under the door. At the moment, there’s a cap of £72,600 on any award made by an employment tribunal. That stands – but if you happen to earn less than that, say £20,000 a year – then your maximum compensation will be that annual salary equivalent.

It’s not difficult to see that Mr. Cameron has found another convenient back door to ensuring that those who earn least can be disadvantaged most in terms of justice and fair pay.

Every single individual in Scotland, from a new-born baby to an elderly dementia sufferer, has an essential human right to justice and compassionate governance. That is an absolutely central belief of the SNP both as a political party and as the current Scottish government.

Those rights are also enshrined in law at a UK, Scottish and EU level.

Paying for justice is returning to a Victorian notion of wealth and equal treatment being one and the same. I don’t buy into that idea. Like education or healthcare, justice needs to be free at the point of need. Lack of money cannot be used as a means to deny justice.

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