They cook, they clean, they care.

Women form the backbone of our public services. Yet 42 years after the passing of the Equal Pay Act, female staff at a major Scottish local authority are still fighting for their rights. Yesterday more than 2400 women working for South Lanarkshire Council won a significant victory after one of the longest equal pay battles in Scottish history.

In 1999 the council was one of the first to implement what it termed a "single status agreement" but failed to end discrimination and opted out of the pay and grading scheme implemented by most authorities. In 2005 a claim was lodged to enforce the women's legal rights. It has taken seven years to achieve this judgment, which enables employees to compare their pay with that of colleagues employed in work of equal value. South Lanarkshire now should do the honourable thing by abandoning its case against these women and paying them what they are owed. Continuing to fight the case will merely incur more cost to the taxpayer. Councils are able to borrow from the Treasury to meet equal pay handouts, so there is no issue of robbing Peter to pay Paula.

It is disgraceful that some councils, including Labour-led ones, have had to be dragged to the table on this issue and trade unions, though important players in the fight for equal pay, do not have an unblemished record either. At one stage the women working for South Lanarkshire were advised against making a claim by their trade union.

Long after 1970, chauvinist attitudes persisted right across the political spectrum. This world view continued to perceive men as "breadwinners" and women as earning "pin money". The UK should have outgrown these stereotypes decades ago, as deindustrialisation and other changes in society transformed the make up of the workforce.

Made in Dagenham, the film that recounts the story of the 1968 strike by women at the Ford plants in that Essex town, has been a timely reminder of the genesis of the 1970 Act and the determination of Harold Wilson's employment secretary Barbara Castle to give women their due. But the public sector dragged its feet, despite the rapid rise in the number of female single-earner households and families dependent on the mother's salary.

The lesson of South Lanarkshire is that it is not sufficient to win recognition of the right to equal pay. It is necessary to review it regularly, against a background of complete transparency.