IN what is the largest single industrial dispute in recent history 8,000 women employed by Glasgow City Council will walk out and begin a 48-hour strike over equal pay on Tuesday.

This is a dispute more over alleged bad faith than substance. Both the unions involved, Unison and the GMB, and the council agree that women have been discriminated against and that they are due settlement for earning less than men in similar jobs over the last 12 years. What they cannot so far agree on is a timescale for implementation.

The unions say they have held 21 meetings over the last year without any real negotiations, or an offer being put to them. The council has responded that they will make that offer in December but will not negotiate further while a dispute is happening.

“This is an event of historic significance,” said Jennifer McCarey, who is the lead negotiator for Unison. STUC Deputy General Secretary Dave Moxham echoed, calling it a moment in the city’s history: “Power has begun to shift from the City Chambers into the hands of the working class women who make Glasgow.”

The root of this dispute goes back to 2006 when what was meant to be an agreed equal pay deal was implemented. It was signed by the GMB, but not by Unison who walked away from the table. However the women involved – cleaners, cooks, home carers and council workers – claimed it actually entrenched discrimination and that men in similar jobs were earning up to £3 an hour more.

For instance, before the agreement a home carer would have been on the same pay grade as a refuse lorry driver, but after the settlement the driver was on two grades above.

Some of the GMB workers began to move to Unison. Others began to take legal action against the union, led by Stefan Cross QC of the claims firm Action 4 Equality Scotland. The GMB then dropped solicitors Digby Brown and are pursuing them for damages over what they claim was negligent advice over the equal pay claims. The two unions then came together and are now being represented by Cross.

The unions first held a consultative ballot in May over potential strike action and another in September where members voted in a landslide – up to 98 per cent – in favour of strike action. The cost of settling the dispute is put at upwards of £500 million, which would likely bankrupt the council without Scottish Government support.

“There has been zero progress over 21 meetings,” said McCarey. “This dispute hasn’t come out of nowhere. The employers conceded that the agreement wasn’t fit for purpose months ago.”

Moxham said: “How much the council pays carers, cleaners and cooks is a measure of how much they value the work they do. The people who care most in Glasgow are historically undervalued.”

Glasgow City council said: “We understand why many of our workforce remain angry about equal pay and we are also aware of the depth of feeling there is behind this industrial action. However, the strike is unnecessary and potentially very dangerous for some of the most vulnerable people in the city.”

It added: “We have agreed everything the unions have asked for during negotiations to avert the strike.”


The immediate history harks back to 2006 when a new job evaluation scheme – the Workforce Pay and Benefits Review – was introduced by the council, then run by Labour. It was intended to ensure equal pay for women. It was signed up to by the GMB union but not by Unison. However, despite being intended to address the gender pay gap the women affected claimed it entrenched discrimination by paying jobs dominated by women, such as catering, cleaning and care assistants, less than male-dominated jobs like refuse collection – notionally deemed to be of equal value. The complexity of the system also penalised people working split-shifts and irregular hours – mainly women.

The scheme also built in a three-year payment protection for men who lost out on bonuses. But last year that was ruled discriminatory by the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

Women workers have been insisting since the inception of the new scheme that it was discriminatory and that they were being paid up to £3 and hour less than men in similar roles.

A 12-year resistance battle had been fought through tribunals and the courts by Labour administrations. But in January this year, after a succession of judgments went against it, the council agreed to stop fighting through legal mechanisms and to settle in a negotiated settlement.

In council elections in May last year the SNP took control from Labour on a manifesto which included a pledge to settle claim, which the unions argue could cost up to £1 billion, a figure described as "plucked out of the air" by the council which has not yet given its own estimate on how much the settlement would cost.

Three months ago Scotland's government spending watchdog described the financial burden as unprecedented, again without putting a figure to the it.


Both sides are in agreement it principle, that the money is due, it's over the pace of implementation and commitment to settle where they fall out.

The lawyer who has been leading the negotiations for the claimants, Stefan Cross QC, has described them as a sham. He claims the council has repeatedly refused to engage with any of the underlying legal issues or state its position despite 21 meetings across 12 months. A suggested timetable by the claimants was ditched, he says, with the council simply stating it would make an offer in December.

"An offer should be the product of negotiations, not the start," he said.

Council leader Susan Aitken, while reaffirming her commitment to equal pay, has questioned the motivations of the unions leading the strike, Unison and GMB. She believes that not only have they have let their members down but were also sympathetic to previous Labour administrations by not taking industrial action.

"Had the trade unions employed their industrial muscle long before now we wouldn't be where we are now. They let the women down for a long time," she said.

SNP councillor Rhiannon Spear on Twitter also questioned why the unions had not gone of strike under Labour administrations. "This is a politicised ballot that will have a devastating impact on Glasgow, especially those with home help," she Tweeted.

This is strenuously rejected by Unison's Jennifer McCarey. "This is not a political strike," she said. "There have been lots of industrial disputes around pay grades." She instanced, among others, one of the longest-running labour disputes, the 20-month janitors' strike – #justiceforjannies – led by the union where there had been stalemate under Labour, but was finally resolved in August with a six per cent pay rise, 100 days after the SNP took over the council.


Stefan Cross QC, the lawyer representing the 8,000 equal pay claimants, has accused officials of thwarting a settlement, claiming that they don’t share the commitment of the political leadership to secure a fair deal. This is denied by the council.

He claims that Aitken (left), the SNP leader, is at loggerheads with chief executive Annemarie O’Donnell and her deputy Carole Forrest.

“There have been no realistic attempts to negotiate,” said Cross (left). “The difference between Annemarie O’Donnell and Susan Aitken is chalk and cheese.” Adding that in “all my years of practising law I can’t say this is negotiation”.

Unison’s McCarey is rather more circumspect. “Sometimes it does seem that the political commitment does not echo in the negotiations. It may well be that these are being misrepresented by the politicians.”

Commenting on Mr Cross’s claims, the council said: “This is condescending rubbish. The leader of the council has been very clear that officers are carrying out the instruction handed to them by committee.

“The leader has made a huge political commitment on equal pay and anyone who thinks she doesn’t press her officials pretty hard on progress doesn’t know her very well.”


In the single largest industrial action in living memory 8000 women will walk out from their jobs as cleaners, home carers, caterers, nursery staff, school administrations workers and other council staff. It is organised by two unions, Unison and the GMB.

Strike action will hit schools, nurseries, home care, cleaning and catering services. The council expects all primary schools to close across the two days, although secondary schools may not be affected. Schools have been mailing parents to inform them of closures.. Nurseries and assisted learning schools will also close. There will also be pickets, with a multitude of banners, on all, or most, council establishments.

Strikers will gather on Glasgow Green at 11.30am on Tuesday and at 12 noon will march to George Square to hold a mass rally – opposite Glasgow City Chambers. After an initial welcome a minute's silence will be held to honour the women who have died since the campaign began.