THOUSANDS of women are set to share in a windfall of up to £100 million as part of a long-running equal pay dispute

Around 6,500 female staff at Glasgow City Council are due to receive substantial payouts after they were paid less than male colleagues despite a new wage structure being introduced in 2007 that was designed to close the salary gap between sexes.

Under the system, men benefited from protections that halted sharp falls in their wages. But it meant their female counterparts failed to achieve parity in their salaries even after the local authority was forced to pay out large sums to meet an earlier equal pay ruling.

The affected women will now proceed with additional claims against the council in a decision described as a "major victory" for the workers.

Carer Elizabeth Burns, of Castlemilk, is one of the women who had been underpaid and said she was "disgusted" when men continued to be paid more than her even after she won an equal pay award in 2005.

She said: "We were led to believe that we would now be paid the same, but it didn't happen and we were devastated. The morale among the women I work with hit a real low.

"This decision has been a long time coming and now I just hope that we get to see some of the money sooner rather than later."

Solicitors acting in the case have accused the council of failing to learn lessons from the first tranches of equal pay cases.

And they believe almost every other local authority in Scotland has fallen foul of equal pay laws.

Lawyer Stefan Cross QC, whose firm Action 4 Equality Scotland represents the majority of the women involved in the The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) estimates the claims in Glasgow could hit £100m.

He said: "This particular part of their case has taken nine years to reach this point and we're obviously delighted for the women that they've got further entitlement.

"The EAT held that Glasgow have failed to properly equalise its pay structure and failed to give proper protection to the women.

"The new pay structure protected the pay for the men but didn't do so for women. It meant in rough terms that a woman on the same grade as a man could be paid £12,000 a year when the man was being paid £18,000.

"What we've effectively been arguing is that the council didn't learn its lesson the first time round."

The protracted case was originally rejected at an employment tribunal, but the law firm - in tandem with trade unions UNISON and GMB which represent around 1000 women - appealed the decision.

While they lost on one part relating to the council's scoring system and job evaluation scheme, the EAT found in favour of the women in relation to pay protection for men, which saw males given extra pay for a three-year period.

Judges also ruled that the women - including cooks, cleaners and care workers - were unfairly discriminated against by the council because the new pay scales saw men placed directly at the top while women had to work their way up from the bottom over a five-year period.

The EAT found that some of the women continued to paid just as much less than men as they were prior to the new structure.

Mr Cross urged the council to begin talks to secure an appropriate settlement for the women.

Susan Aitken, leader of the SNP opposition at Glasgow City Council, also urged the authority "come clean" about its responsibilities and settle the claims.

She said: "The Council should have sought to do the right thing by these women when it emerged that the original claims may not have been adequately settled.

"Instead it may well have opened itself up to increased liability at a time when public finances are already under enormous pressure."

A council spokesman said: "We are pleased that the tribunal has ruled that the council’s job evaluation scheme is valid in accordance with equal pay legislation.

"We are committed to ensuring that our employees are paid the appropriate rate for their job and welcome the continued judicial endorsement of our pay and grading structure.

"We note that the tribunal has ruled against us in relation to pay protection and assimilation and we are carefully considering our position."