Nearly 2,000 women can expect to share in an estimated £12m in lost pay after the Supreme Court handed down judgment in the favour in the seven-year case of North & Others v Dumfries and Galloway council.
Having conceded that council bonuses were discriminatory, more than 20 Scottish councils joined Dumfries in arguing that women should only get equal pay compensation if they worked at the same location as their male comparators.
Unison had appealed after the Court of Session said the 251 classroom assistants, support for learning assistants and nursery nurses in Dumfries were not able to compare themselves with groundsmen, refuse collectors and drivers and leisure attendants who received bonuses, but were based at depots, not in the women's schools.
But the judgment overturns that decision, saying that equal pay law which allows a woman to compare herself with a man "in the same employment" does apply, even though the women worked at different ‘establishments’.
Unison said that the decision also opens the way for thousands of workers in arms length companies to compare pay rates between different employers if the council has the overriding ability to control how these subsidiaries operate.
Karen Korus, a classroom assistant from Langlands school in Dumfries said, ‘This has been a very long fight but we knew all along that we should be able to compare our work with the men, who sometimes did work in schools, but were not based there like us.
‘I am so proud of the women here in Dumfries who stayed strong even when we lost a couple of decisions along the way. UNISON has been fantastic and winning today will also help women in the future who want to compare themselves with men working from different places for the same employer.’
Dave Prentis, Unison general secretary, said, ‘I am delighted that the Supreme Court has ruled in favour of our women members. It is a shame, though, that they have had to go through this process and endure a seven-year wait, just to get equal pay.
'Dumfries and Galloway Council should take immediate steps to correct their pay and I urge other councils to follow suit. We have more than 2,000 other cases on hold, waiting for this judgment.’
‘Employers should be in no doubt that this union will continue to pursue cases until all women are treated equally. There are far too many who are still discriminated against and far too many employers who are using every single legal argument and loophole to dodge their obligations under equal pay law.’
A Dumfries and Galloway council spokesperson said, ‘This is a complex case, which has been considered by Employment Tribunal, Employment Appeal Tribunal, Court of Session, and now the Supreme Court. The Employment Appeal Tribunal and Court of Session both ruled in our Council’s favour. The Supreme Court judgment is the most recent stage of the legal process. This judgment has implications for many local authorities and other public bodies. Our Council will now consider its position in response to the Supreme Court judgment.’