"To our Sisters, the 390,000 members of NUPGE support you in this struggle, and thank you for your commitment and courage. Workers around the world will benefit from your efforts." — Larry Brown, NUPGE President.
Glasgow, Scotland (23 Oct. 2018) — Thousands of school staff, caterers, cleaners, nursery and care workers — members of Public Services International (PSI) affiliates UNISON and GMB — began a 48-hour strike action on October 23. The decision comes after a 12-year tribunal battle, and a repeated refusal by the Glasgow city council to state its position after the highest court in Scotland ruled last year that the city’s pay system was discriminatory. The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is an affiliate of PSI.
Equal pay claims worth £1 billion
The walk out on October 23 and 24 is believed by unions to be the largest equal pay strike since the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1970. The majority of the women are over 45 and have been doing their jobs for 20 years.
The council expects 50,000 pupils to be affected, along with 6,000 people receiving home care, but Mandy McDowell, a UNISON regional organizer, is keen to stress that the union and its members will make sure there is coverage of services helping vulnerable people.
UNISON and GMB estimate that the equal pay claims against the Glasgow City Council could be worth £1 billion.
Rosa Pavanelli, PSI General Secretary, said, "This might be the first strike organized by women over gender-based pay discrimination in public services that shows how far we are from real equality, and also how gender-based discrimination is at the root of the devaluation of jobs which are mostly held by women."
Highest court in Scotland ruled city's pay system is discriminatory
The strike action is a result of a repeated refusal by the council’s current political leadership to state its own position in the 12 months and 21 meetings since the highest court in Scotland ruled last year that the city’s pay system was discriminatory.
The women council workers in Glasgow have been waiting for more than a decade for equal pay since the city's council introduced a new pay and grading scheme in 2006, which was supposed to put an end to pay inequality based on gender. However, it included 3-year protections for bonuses paid to men, but not to women.
That prompted employment tribunal cases arguing that it was both unfair and unlawful to continue pay discrimination for 3 years after the new scheme was put into place.
Also, women in traditionally female jobs — such as caterers, cleaners and care assistants — found they were being paid less than men in jobs such as refuse collection. Although the jobs were of equal value and should have attracted equal pay, they argued that the scheme scored the skills of jobs traditionally associated with men higher than those that were seen as “women’s work."
Pay equity in Canada
Fighting for women's rights in the workplace is an issue that women in Canada are long familiar with. It has taken decades in some industries and public services for women's work to be valued at the same level as men's. While most provinces have legislation governing pay equity, there are still employers that have not evaluated their employment process to ensure it is fair to everyone.
"We send our solidarity to the women who are fighting for basic human rights," said Larry Brown, NUPGE President. "When women’s work is devalued, their ability to contribute fully is undermined. Suppressing wages makes it harder for women to have financial security. Raising women's pay means a better ability to care for themselves and their families."
"But this kind of gender discrimination isn't the sole issue as to why women are not economically secure. Lower wages, part-time jobs, the lack of affordable child care, the lack of good pensions are all hurdles put in women's way," said Brown.
"To our Sisters, the 390,000 members of NUPGE support you in this struggle, and thank you for your commitment and courage," said Brown. "Workers around the world will benefit from your efforts."
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE