More than 200 classroom assistants and nursery nurses won a vital battle in their fight for equal pay yesterday when the Supreme Court ruled they could fairly be compared to male manual workers such as refuse collectors.
Classroom assistant Karen Korus, one of the women who have been battling Dumfries and Galloway council for seven years, 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 declared it a historic victory, insisting that the success would help 2,000 Scottish members with similar cases.
Yesterday five justices from the highest court in the land said the women could now make their claims before an Employment Tribunal, but would face the further “hurdles” of proving their work was of equal value and, if so, there was no other justification for the disparity in terms and conditions.
A spokesman for Dumfries and Galloway Council said it would now consider its position in light of the ruling, adding: “This judgment has implications for many local authorities and other public bodies.”
In bringing their equal pay claims, the women, who work during school term times only, had to establish that certain male council staff were “in the same employment”, even though they have different terms and conditions and jobs at other establishments.
While the women are employed under the terms of the national collective agreement Blue Book, the groundsmen, refuse collectors and swimming pool leisure attendants work to terms of a different Green Book agreement and are entitled to a substantial supplement to their basic pay.
Two years after they launched their legal fight in 2006, claiming their work was of equal value, the initial Employment Tribunal found in their favour.
But an Employment Appeal tribunal ruled in the council’s favour, as did the Court of Session, which said the women failed to show that if the men were based at schools they would be employed on Green Book terms.
Yesterday, as the Supreme Court said the original Employment Tribunal had been correct, Lady Hale explained that the legislation intended that different jobs carried out in different workplaces could still be deemed of equivalent value.
“It is well known that those jobs which require physical strength have traditionally been better rewarded than those jobs which require dexterity,” she added. ”It is one of the objects of the equality legislation to iron out those traditional inequalities of reward where the work involved is of genuinely equal value.“