WHEN Glasgow City Council vowed in January to negotiate an equal pay settlement rather than continue to fight current and former employees in the courts, it seemed that a legal dispute that had rumbled on for over a decade was finally going to be resolved.

Four months on and with no settlement offer agreed, however, it is looking increasingly likely that further litigation will ensue, with the claimants’ representatives preparing to take the matter back to the Employment Tribunal.

The problem, according to Action4Equality Scotland’s Stefan Cross QC - who is representing around 7,500 mostly female workers making a claim against the council - is that despite talks between the sides starting as far back as December, so far only the terms of reference for the negotiations have been agreed.

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As a result, Action4Equality as well as the GMB and Unison, which each represent around 2,000 Glasgow claimants, have engaged Daphne Romney QC of London set Cloisters as a precaution in case negotiations break down.

“We haven’t discussed a single substantive issue so we are hedging our bets,” Mr Cross said.

“We’d still like to have proper negotiations with the council but when you’re at meeting 12 and you still haven’t had a proper discussion you have to question whether that will work.

“What we don’t want to do is say let’s go to the tribunal then spend six or nine months getting ready to do that.

“We have to work on both fronts at the same time and that’s what we are doing.”

Last year, the Court of Session ruled that a Workforce Pay and Benefits Review conducted by the council over a decade ago favoured men by protecting bonuses only they had received and valuing their work more highly than that of female colleagues. It is thought that it could cost the local authority between £500 million and £1 billion to rectify.

Mr Cross said that if a negotiated settlement with the council cannot be agreed then every claim will have to be referred back to the Employment Tribunal to be determined on a case by case basis in a process would likely take many more years to complete. The claimants’ legal team would also seek a judge’s opinion on previously undiscussed matters such as part-time workers’ rights and holiday pay.

While the claimant side is also open to the possibility of mediation, from the council’s point of view negotiation is still the best way forward.

“We are committed to a process of negotiation – a process which was agreed with the claimants and their representatives and follows many years of legal debate,” a spokesman for the local authority said.

“You can choose to litigate or negotiate. The council has made a very clear decision that it wants to negotiate, which we believe provides the quickest route to a resolution.”

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While Action4Equality, Unison and the GMB are negotiating collectively with the council, Unison regional manager Peter Hunter said he agreed that talks are preferable to further litigation.

“We are committed to winning pay equality by negotiation with the council,” he said. “More litigation is always an option but it is a last resort, primarily because we know that our traditional trade union approach gets quicker results.

“There will be no need for industrial action or litigation in the short term if we can agree three things with the council: the claimants need their compensation as soon as possible; we all need a new pay system that delivers equality for Glasgow; and the council must commit to providing the funding required to deliver pay equality and income security for all its workers.”

However, with the local authority this week rejecting a settlement offer put forward by the claimant side, further litigation is looking increasingly likely.

GMB regional organiser Hazel Nolan said: “We will have to go the Employment Tribunal to reach agreement on these issues. We’ll do that pretty soon - within the next few weeks.”

In the meantime, as both the GMB and Unison are consulting members on whether they would be willing to strike over equal pay, the council could be facing a summer not just of legal disputes but of industrial ones too.