THOUSANDS of women who expected their long-running equal-pay dispute with Glasgow City Council to settle this side of Christmas are going to have to wait at least until the New Year for a payment after the teams negotiating the deal agreed to postpone the settlement.

The dispute, which relates to a pay system put in place by the council in 2007, has been rumbling on for the best part of a decade, with over 13,000 female staff claiming they have been paid less than men for doing work of equal value throughout that period.

The SNP administration agreed to settle the matter soon after succeeding Labour at last year’s local elections, with council leader Susan Aitken promising in January that an offer would be on the table by the end of this year.

While 8,000 women staged a two-day walkout in October to protest against what they saw as the lack of progress being made towards that settlement, the two sides have now agreed to extend the timetable beyond December in light of the “valuable progress” that has been made since the industrial action took place.

Peter Hunter of trade union Unison, which is representing around 2,000 of the affected women, said: “Valuable progress has been made but the remaining issues are complicated and the agreement to adjourn until January was the right thing to do.

“The last part of any deal is always the hardest and both sides always face the need for difficult concessions. That requires an atmosphere of trust in the room. Both sides have built that over the last six weeks and don’t want to prejudice it by rushing at complex issues with insufficient time. A good deal is better than a quick deal.”

A spokesman for the council agreed, noting that “the last six weeks have been productive and substantial progress has been made towards a settlement”.

“However, the last remaining issues are complex and negotiators from both sides agreed earlier this month that we should continue to work together with a view to concluding talks in the early part of the New Year. We all remain committed to agreeing a settlement as soon as is practicably possible,” he added.

Despite the sides taking a more conciliatory tone than they did before, during and immediately after the industrial action, it is understood that there is still a gap of around £200 million between what the women’s representatives have calculated the total settlement should be and what the council would be willing to agree to.

Although the extension to negotiations has given the sides more time to iron out those differences, Hazel Nolan of the GMB union, which is also representing around 2,000 claimants, said that the longer that takes the bigger the council’s liability is likely to become.

“We said the bill would be £500m but that was conservative and that was this time last year,” she said. “There were about 11,500 claimants then but now there are about 14,000 and that increases the bill.”

There are also concerns that talks could break down completely if they extend to the point that the case calls back at the Employment Tribunal. The sides agreed earlier this year to begin formal tribunal proceedings as a backstop in case negotiations failed, with the first of the timetabled hearings set for the end of February and another scheduled for April.

While the first hearing is thought to be procedural in nature, the second would be to determine which of the claimants had been treated unfairly under the council’s pay structure and how much compensation they would be entitled to as a result. As that would effectively again pit the sides against each other in a litigious environment it is unlikely that negotiations could continue from that point.

“There are various pressures early in 2019 – litigation, budget setting, rising costs. They all make the logic for settlement ever-more compelling,” Hunter said.

In the meantime, the council has begun work on replacing its pay scheme, although its spokesman noted that implementing a new structure would be “a major piece of work, which typically takes up to two years”.

As that means anyone receiving an equal-pay settlement in the coming months would continue to be paid under the discredited system for some time afterwards, a further settlement will be negotiated further down the line to cover the period between the initial payout being made and the new pay structure coming into force.

Stefan Cross of Action 4 Equality Scotland, which is acting for the bulk of the claimants, was not available for comment.