Probe into male/female pay divide

TOWN chiefs in Ipswich were today challenged to complete a study on pay scales amid fears of a gender salary gap in the corridors of power.

TOWN chiefs in Ipswich were today challenged to complete a study on pay scales amid fears of a gender salary gap in the corridors of power.

This week it was revealed that across England, councils will have to fork out a combined total of £2.8billion to cover the cost of women allegedly being paid less than male colleagues.

Today it emerged that Ipswich Borough Council is yet to complete a study on the issue and could be left facing a hefty bill if pay discrepancies are discovered.

Suffolk County Council will not be affected by the situation after completing the same study - known as the single standard harmonisation (SSH) process - back in 2002.

They had to fork out £5million from council coffers to bring women's salaries into line.

Public sector union Unison has called on the borough council to complete the same study as soon as possible to see if their female staff have also been missing out on thousands.

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However town chiefs are adamant there is no issue to resolve.

Greg Grant, regional secretary for Unison said: “They won't know if there is a pay gap until they do the exercise [the SSH].

“There has been a lot of progress in this region and the majority of local authorities have carried out this exercise.

“It tends to show that a lot of jobs occupied predominantly by women have been underpaid for some years.

“They have had five years to do it.

“If they say they haven't got a problem at the moment it is because they don't know the size of the issue until they have done the exercise.”

Ipswich Borough Council is among around half of all authorities in the UK that failed to meet a deadline of March 2007 for carrying out a pay review to establish whether discrimination is present.

A spokesman for Ipswich Borough Council said: “Our SSH job evaluation process is due for completion this year but we stress that this is organisational and done with unions and that we have no gender disputes at all.”

If pay discrepancies are found at the borough council, the authority would be liable for footing the cost of bumping up the salaries of female staff as well as handing over up to six years' back pay.

When Suffolk County Council completed its pay review in 2002 it made allowance for an additional £5million in the following year's budget to cover bringing salaries up to the right levels.

County chiefs were not required to provide back pay to female employees affected as legislation making this a requirement was only introduced in 2004.

Do you believe you are a victim of gender pay discrimination? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail

A REPORT to councillors in September last year revealed Ipswich Borough Council is aware it faces potential court action if pay issues are discovered.

The report, which went before the council's human resources committee, read: “The main risk associated with the current position remains that IBC [Ipswich Borough Council] could face an equal pay claim by one or more employees utilising a 'no win, no fee' solicitor or by the unions.

“The importance of this risk is that to lose an equal pay case would lead to substantial costs being incurred i.e where an employee is awarded 'back pay' where it is proven that they should have been paid the same as their comparator on the grounds of carrying out 'like work', 'work rated as equivalent' or 'work of equal value'.”

The report reveals a series of measures “to reduce the likelihood of this happening” and to “minimise the effect” have been drafted.

These include acting “as swiftly as possible to minimise the time period that Ipswich Borough Council is at risk” as well as “liaising closely with unions”.

An earlier report on the issue, published in January 2007, revealed the council believes it is not a “high risk” of being found to have gender pay issues as it does not employ many of what are considered to be “high risk” groups.

These include catering staff, school workers, home carers, gardeners and refuse workers.