Female NHS staff win pay claim worth millions of pounds

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A landmark ruling opened the floodgates yesterday for Britain's female health workers to make equal pay claims worth millions of pounds.

More than 1,500 women who work for the NHS are expected to receive between £35,000 and £200,000 each in back-pay following an eight-year legal battle.

The deal was agreed at North Cumbria Acute Hospitals NHS Trust after Unison, the health services union, took up the claims. The payout will apply to female staff working as cleaners, nurses, telephonists and supervisors, and will include about 100 former employees who have retired. Some staff will receive up to 14 years of back-pay.

The deal is poised to pave the way for tens of thousands more women, who believe they have been discriminated against, to make similar claims.

Unison compared the pay of female workers at the Cumbria trust with that of their male colleagues, including building workers, maintenance assistants and supervisors.

Dave Prentis, general-secretary of Unison, welcomed the deal but lamented the time it had taken to reach an agreement. "It's been a long, hard struggle, but this is a fantastic result for the members involved," he said.

"We have always argued that there has been historic pay discrimination in the health service against women. It's dreadful, though, that it has taken so long to get justice for these hard-working women who are the backbone of the NHS."

The deal applies to female staff at both the Cumberland Infirmary and the West Cumberland Hospital, which comprise the trust.

Christine Wharrier, a Unison convener who has worked at the West Cumberland hospital for 28 years, said: "It's a great victory. Discrimination runs deep in the NHS, especially for part-timers, who are mainly women workers. This win will be a boon for ancillary staff who will benefit because they are on really low pay."

Linda Wightman, a nurse for 16 years and a Unison representative at the trust, said: "It feels like the end of a long road but it is extremely worthwhile because this is such a great victory for the low paid women workers in the NHS. Little old Cumbria has led by example.

"It will mean a lot to members who have had to retire through ill-health, who worked themselves to a frazzle for the NHS and have bad backs or other problems. It will be a real boost to their pensions."

In a statement, North Cumbria Acute Hospitals Trust confirmed an agreement had been made. When the deal was accepted the trust would work with the unions to agree how and when the claims would be paid.

Marie Burnham, chief executive of the trust, said: "We are pleased that a proposed agreement has been reached and I trust that this long-standing issue will soon be resolved in a sensible manner."

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