Analysis Announcement

Unions mount joint protest at Birmingham council office tomorrow over cuts and unequal pay

Councillors ‘summoned’ by Labour council to attend meeting despite union protest

Workers at Birmingham City Council will mount a protest at the council’s Victoria Square office tomorrow in protest at planned cuts to services and jobs after the council declared a ‘114 notice’ – effectively declaring itself bankrupt – blaming workers’ demands for equal pay for men and women. The council owes some £760m in unpaid wages to underpaid women.

Members of the GMB, Unison and Unite unions will blockade the offices from 5pm. Councillors have been ‘summoned’ to attend a mandatory meeting despite the effective picket. It is not yet known whether any Labour councillors – many of whom are also members of the unions – will join the protest.

Caroline Johnson, joint secretary of the council’s Unison branch, said the 114 notice may be cover for a manoeuvre to downgrade everyone’s pay instead of increasing the pay of women who had not been paid equally:

I think it would suit officers to lower the pay of everybody in the council and one way to do it is to use an untransparent scheme and then lower the pay line for everybody. I think there’s an attempt to blame the workforce somehow. It’s either ‘those women who want their equal pay’ or it’s ‘those men who’ve been overpaid’ [who get blamed]. We stand very firmly with our refuse workers – they’re not overpaid. Women are underpaid when men are not overpaid in this organisation.

GMB organiser Rachel Fagan said the council leadership was playing politics despite years of efforts by unions to resolve the situation:

This is pure politics from council top brass, piling pressure onto politicians to take what would be a catastrophic decision for the city.

The council’s proposals lock workers out of the job evaluation process, risking more discrimination and more debt which would threaten the future of the city’s services. Birmingham City Council already owes hundreds of millions of pounds to its low-paid women workers, wages that have been stolen from them over years of discriminatory pay practises, and that bill is growing by the minute.

For almost two years, GMB has urged the council to work with us in re-implementing the NJC scheme, the gold standard scheme for local government jobs. That would end the discrimination and stop the clock on the city’s mounting equal pay debts. The council needs to act quickly, but the people of Birmingham can’t afford for them to get this wrong again. Another sticking plaster fix won’t cut it. It’s time for real pay justice.

Locals are now raising questions about when Keir Starmer and the council leadership knew about the impending bankruptcy declaration – council leader John Cotton has denied knowing about it in advance but allegations are circulating that both he and Starmer knew as far back as February. The financial chaos has allowed the Tories to take effective control of the council by appointing commissioners.

In July, Skwawkbox revealed that more ‘chaos’ in the council’s computer system – which had not been trialled before implementation – was preventing the council from paying suppliers or even calculating its tax bill. The ‘Labour’ council – taken over this summer by Cotton after an alleged Starmer-driven ‘coup’ – also has a long record of trying to manage its financial problems by cutting workers’ pay.

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    1. Sunday! She’s having a lay-in. Maybe back at her desk, Wednesday, maybe Thursday.

  1. The Equal Pay act came in in 1970. This means that for the last 53 years there has been a legal obligation on employers to ensure that women receive equal pay with men for work of equal value.
    If the council decides to pay men less in order to “level down” salaries it won’t get them out of this mess. Equal pay claims can be backdated for up to 6 years.
    In my opinion the unions on behalf of the women concerned should lodge tribunal proceedings right away. It is inexcusable that they did not do so years ago if the council has routinely paid women less than men for doing work of equal value.

    1. It’s the 1983 equal pay for work of equal value regulations by your point is still valid. Introduced at the insistence of the EC (as it then was), the procedure was deliberately complex; a case of over-regulation in order to limit its impact. Over time, however, women’s claims worked have through the procedure.

      Neither Labour or Conservative governments were enthusiastic about the issue.

      1. Reply to Paul Smith
        Harold Wilson, following the equal pay dispute at Ford’s Dagenham factory ( 1968) introduced the Equal Pay legislation in 1970. Some years later ( 1975) the EC issued an equal pay directive. The original 1970 act was amended to comply with the directive and the 1983 legislation was enacted (probably reluctantly) under Thatcher. However the principle of Equal Pay for work of Equal Value had been established in Britain by a Labour government in thirteen years earlier

  2. Wonder if keef thinks that “An industrial dispute…in Birmingham…Shouldn’t affect the funding or relationship of the unions” with his party.

  3. This has been swept under the carpet for decades back in 1997 Tony Blair’s New Labour government were supposed to have introduced the ‘single status’ agreement that was supposed to guarantee equality. But like everything charlatan Blairite Labour did when it came to workers and equality this was a sham with little enforement teeth. That’s why instead government statuatory enforcement this has gone to lawyers.
    One fiddle was the bonus system.
    “The number one priority was to protect the pay of those who were already getting the higher pay; the men essentially. A study done in 1999 by local government showed that 80% of men’s jobs were getting bonuses while only 1.2% of women’s jobs were.” He squeals in fury. “What’s more shocking is that the unions and the employers already knew. There was a report in 1997 saying these bonuses were discriminatory.”

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