Public bodies have certain obligations which, while potentially costly, are non-negotiable.
Providing similar pay to men and women doing jobs requiring similar levels of skill, is one of those obligations.
It is not hard to imagine the dismay felt by council finance directors when faced with potentially expensive equal pay claims from underpaid women, but, to use an American term: too bad.
Paying women less than men for similarly skilled work is an iniquitous hangover from an age when women who worked were regarded as second class employees who were invading the male sphere, and reflects an ongoing tendency for jobs in which women prevail - caring and administrative roles, for instance - to be undervalued. Forty-three years after the Equal Pay Act it is laughable that women must still fight to have the true value of their work reflected in their pay packets.
News that talks are now to take place between South Lanarkshire Council and the representatives of claimants is welcome, but woefully overdue. It reflects very badly on the council that it has only been brought to the negotiating table after having resisted revealing information related to pay scales all the way to the Supreme Court.
Not only has the bloody-minded pursuit of that doomed challenge cost council taxpayers a sum thought to be in the region of £200,000 - for South Lanarkshire's own legal costs and that of the Information Commissioner - but the council's intransigence in not settling the claims sooner may have have added significantly to the final bill. If resisting the claims seemed like a good idea once, not any more. Every year that has passed since these claims were brought has ratcheted up the bill the council will eventually have to pay. There are 3000 unfair pay claims outstanding in the South Lanarkshire case - some dating back to 2000 - which some estimates suggest could in the end cost the council over £100m to settle.
Let this sorry tale be a warning to other councils and indeed other employers generally who might be minded to delay or resist such a process. The longer employers stand in the way of claims, the larger the potential bill becomes.
It is not as if South Lanarkshire is the first council to face such claims, after all.
The case has finally reached this point following the efforts of the group Action 4 Equality Scotland (A4ES) - not a campaign by unions. If, as A4ES's Mark Irvine suggests, this is because of an unwillingness on the part of South Lanarkshire unions to fight the issue, that is worrying and can only harm the unions in the long term.
It is not over yet. Hearings were to have taken place at the employment tribunal in Glasgow in September but have now been postponed. Instead, talks are to take place to resolve the claims. If they can be settled fairly, amicably and above all prompting it will be best for all concerned.
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