GLASGOW City Council has bolstered its equal-pay legal team with specialist employment counsel ahead of the long-running dispute potentially being transferred back to the Employment Tribunal in the coming months.

Clyde & Co, which has been the local authority’s go-to law firm since acquiring its previous adviser Simpson & Marwick in 2015, has instructed Littleton Chambers silk David Reade QC as well as barrister Seamus Sweeney of north of England set Parklane Plowden.

Clyde & Co has instructed counsel after talks between the local authority and the representatives of 13,000 women making equal-pay claims against it fell apart last week. This happened after trade unions the GMB and Unison announced that their members would stage a 48-hour walk-out later this month.

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While the council and unions held industrial-relations talks yesterday in a bid to avert strike action and get negotiations back on track, no agreement was reached.

Council chief executive Annemarie O’Donnell later wrote to the unions and law firm Action4Equality Scotland, which represents the majority of the women making a claim, indicating that the council is prepared to send the case back to the tribunal if talks continue to stall.

In response to the unions’ demand that all settlements are based on “entitlement rather than cost”, Ms O’Donnell said as the local authority will have to budget for its settlement “costs will need to be taken into account”.

“Clearly an ET [employment tribunal] could decide on legal entitlements,” she added.

Earlier this year the claimants’ representatives asked Daphne Romney QC of London set Cloisters and Scottish advocate Jonathan Mitchell QC of Anderson Marnot Advocates to prepare to take the case back to the tribunal as a precautionary measure.

A spokesman for the council said the authority had “agreed to jointly timetable potential hearings in the new year as a backstop, should negotiations fail to resolve any issues”. He added that the council “obviously hope[s] these dates are not required”.

However, Action4Equality’s Stefan Cross QC said that Ms O’Donnell’s letter “proves what we’ve been saying all along - despite the leader’s promises, the officials have no intention of settling this dispute and want to go back to tribunal”.

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If that happens the affected workers will likely have to wait several more years before receiving a settlement, with the action adding an extra layer of litigation to a matter that has in some form been making its way through the justice system for more than a decade.

The first cases to be heard related to settlements agreed between the authority and the unions after all local authorities acknowledged at the end of the 1990s that they had been paying men and women different rates for work of equal value. Many Glasgow women went to both the Employment Tribunal and the Employment Appeal Tribunal to have those settlements declared discriminatory, but failed in both instances.

Then, after Glasgow City Council transferred its home care, cleaning and catering staff to arms-length organisation Cordia in 2009, a group of women being paid less than men still working for the council launched an Employment Tribunal case to determine whether Glasgow could be held liable for the disparity. While the tribunal found against the women an appeal went in their favour. The council appealed that decision to the Court of Session, which also found in the women’s favour. The GMB withdrew from that case at the Court of Session stage.

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The most recent dispute also made its way through the tribunal and Employment Appeal Tribunal before the Court of Session last year ruled in two separate judgments that Glasgow’s pay scheme was discriminatory and that the council – and Cordia - had put female staff at a disadvantage by protecting male bonuses that women had never been entitled to.

The negotiations that have been taking place since January were supposed to bring all these matters to a conclusion. While talks have broken down for now, both sides have indicated that they want them to resume, with the council spokesman noting that industrial relations talks are expected to continue later this week. Mr Cross said the claimants’ representatives “are ready for intensive but proper negotiations”.