Campaign forces electricity firms to raise women's pay

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The Independent Online
PRIVATISED electricity companies have been forced to acknowledge that they underpaid more than 10,500 clerical staff, most of them women.

After an equal pay campaign lasting nearly four years, the employers have brought their pay into line with male blue-collar workers. Leaders of Unison, the country's biggest union, said the initiative could result in rises for 'tens of thousands' of women working for public services.

At a pre-TUC briefing in Blackpool yesterday, Unison revealed that women in the power industry had been awarded increases of up to pounds 2,000 a year and had been switched to improved pay scales.

The union has secured agreements with 11 out of the 19 companies created when the industry was sold to the private sector and expects up to 20,000 women to win pay increases in the sector as a consequence of the campaign.

The companies had been forced to concede claims after a series of successful industrial tribunal cases which have secured back pay totalling pounds 70,000.

When the first claims were submitted to industrial tribunals in 1990, the difference in pay between the top clerical grade and the top of the manual scale was pounds 709 a year, with a difference of pounds 2,663 between the posts after four years' service.

Union representatives compared such jobs as telephonist, word processor operator, accounts clerk and salesperson with work store keepers' and meter readers' jobs overwhelmingly held by men.

It was argued that under the law, women were performing work of equal value. Unison contended, for instance, that the mental effort and communications skills required for clerical jobs were directly comparable with the physical effort and inferior working conditions of manual jobs. The new 'equality-proofed' pay scales are being negotiated in the move from national to local company- based bargaining.

Alan Jinkinson, general secretary of Unison, said the union had used a 'twin' approach to the problem: persuasion and negotiation backed up by the law. 'It is disgraceful that women workers continue to be exploited nearly two decades after equal pay laws were introduced.' Judith Secker, who co-ordinated the campaign for Unison, said: 'The electricity industry is 'gender-divided'. Clerical staff are predominately female, but blue-collar staff are predominately male and much higher paid.' She said that the power supply industry was the first sector in the country to be persuaded to introduce equal pay with a strategy of legal action coupled with bargaining. Norweb, Nuclear Electric and National Power settled out of court and are negotiating new grading structures. New grading structures are in place at Northern Electric, Manweb, Midlands Electricity, Southern Electric, Seeboard, London Electricity, South Wales Electricity, Power Gen and National Grid Company. All these companies also settled out of court. East Midlands Electricity and Yorkshire Electricity negotiated new deals without litigation.