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Equal pay scheme will cost city pounds 15m.

Byline: Paul Dale

Chief Reporter - Moves by Birmingham City Council to reform its employment structure and offer staff equal pay for equal jobs will cost pounds 15 million.

Personnel officers say it is likely to take two years to implement a Single Status Agreement, signed between the council and unions in 1997, which promises to eradicate the difference between blue and white collar workers and ensure women are paid on a par with men.

More than 35,000 employees will have their jobs evaluated and some will be regraded. Many are expected to be given a wage rise or reduced working hours.

The cost warning is the second financial blow to hit the council this week, after it emerged that Birmingham could lose pounds 42 million of Government grant next year.

A report to the council cabinet from chief personnel officer Andy Albon and strategic director of resources Sarah Wood warns that the local authority will leave itself open to legal challenges from the unions if it does not move quickly to deliver single status.

The report states: 'The changing nature of work and service delivery requirements gives the council the opportunity to reassess its approach as an employer and its relationship with its workforce.

'Issues to be addressed include an unsustainable grading structure, inflexibility in working practices, a perception of low morale, recruitment and retention problems and the diversity challenge.' Council bosses admit the existing grading structure for manual workers has an 'inbuilt bias', with many employees working in excess of the 37 hours per week in their contracts. Wage rates often do not reflect the true value of the job. The report warns: 'The vulnerability of councils to equal pay claims has been demonstrated through a number of high profile and costly employment tribunal cases. The most effective defence against equal pay claims is to carry out a grading review based on a job evaluation scheme which is free of gender bias.' The council will set up a ten-person task force to oversee the re-grading exercise, at a cost of pounds 964,000, including pounds 70,000 to pay for trade union offices and support. The estimated pounds 15 million cost of reforming the pay structure will put three per cent on the council's wage bill, inaddition to the three per cent annual rise already offered to the unions.

A pilot study into pay rates concluded that the grading structure was 'potentially flawed', the council admitted.

Coun Andy Howell (Lab Moseley), deputy council leader, said it would be unrealistic to imagine single status could be introduced at 'zero cost'.

But the exercise was criticised by David Roy, leader of the council Conservative group.

Coun Roy (Sutton Vesey) said Labour council leaders ought to have acted sooner to phase in the new arrangements, rather than waiting until threatened by legal action.

He said: 'We are reaping the harvest of inactivity over a long period of time.'
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jul 26, 2002
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