More than 60 women are challenging Reading Council in court today, arguing they are owed more than £1.5m in equal pay claims.
Trade union Unison said the council is the only local authority in England and Wales to never settle an equal pay claim. It also accused the council of using the £9m set aside to pay the claims to balance its budget instead.
‘Reading council has known for many years it was guilty of treating its low-paid male and female employees very differently,’ said Unison south east regional secretary Maggi Ferncombe.
‘But rather than cough up the cash owed when it had the chance, the local authority has instead chosen to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on expensive lawyers trying to avoid settling the case.
‘The council’s actions are nothing short of immoral. The stress of the last seven years has taken its toll upon many of the women, who will be hoping that today really is the beginning of the end.’
The case is based on the fact the council paid men substantially more for doing equivalent jobs.
Although the council accepted it had broken equal pay laws seven years ago, none of the women have received any backdated pay.
A statement from Reading Borough Council said: 'Where historic claims arise they are dealt with on a case-by-case basis and through the employment tribunal system. Considerable research is required going back a number of years in terms of historic salaries, allowances, changes in individual circumstances and, in particular, the exact day-to-day duties undertaken. There are around 180 claimants across 45 different roles. Job descriptions, and comparisons between different roles, then need to be agreed by all sides via the tribunal system.
'As a result cases are complex and can take some time to resolve. The council needs to make allowances for this, both in terms of legal fees and settlement payments. Timescales are also governed by the tribunal’s own timescales. This year some delays have also been as a result of responses from legal representatives of the claimants themselves.
'Progress is being made on settlement discussions. By the end of this year the council hopes to be in a position to begin to make payments in some individual cases. This is likely to continue through 2017. Where there are areas of dispute, partial payments will also be considered where appropriate and pending on-going discussions.'