IT is disappointing, but not surprising, that more than 40 years after the passing of equal pay legislation in the UK, women in the workforce are still fighting to be paid on an equal basis to men.

The British workplace remains an unequal place – boardrooms are still male-dominated, there is a pay gap of at least 10 % and women are clustered into low-paid public sector jobs vulnerable to the axe. It is inequality piled on inequality and still not enough is being done by employers to put it right.

Indeed, the opposite can be case. For six years, Dumfries and Galloway Council has been resisting a claim by a group of female school employees to be paid the same as men they say are doing comparable jobs. The case first went to a tribunal in 2007 – the women won – but since then the case had been through the Court of Session and the Supreme Court which yesterday ruled in the women's favour. In a grudging statement, the council said classroom assistants and nursery nurses had won the right to have their jobs compared to those of male manual workers, such as road workers and groundsmen.

The implication of the council's statement is clear – that the male and female jobs were entirely different – but the council's apparent stance is exactly what led to the Equal Pay Act in the first place. That act emerged from the 1968 case of the female Ford machinists whose jobs had been classed as unskilled while the jobs of their male colleagues were classed as skilled. It was an act of segregation to justify paying men and women differently.

Something similar has been going in the case of the Dumfries and Galloway workers. The pay and conditions of the women were outlined in a Blue Book, those of the men in a Green Book, which entitled the latter to bonuses and pay supplements not open to the women. It meant a nursery assistant could look out of the window at a groundsman mowing the grass and know he was entitled to extra benefits and pay while she was not. That could not be fair. Employees working in broadly the same areas should have broadly the same rights and conditions.

The Equal Pay Act is clear on this issue – equality applies to bonus and perks as well as pay – and it is a pity Dumfries and Council should have resisted, particularly at a time when it should be making every penny count to shore up public services under extreme funding pressures. There will be a cost attached to paying the women the same as their male colleagues, but the alternative is much worse: that Scotland's councils perpetuate inequalities that should have been erased from the workplace 40 years ago.