Road workers employment terms need aligned to care staff

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Road workers in the Scottish Borders could be set for a change in their employment conditions due to gender pay discrimination fears.

Currently, summer standby for Scottish Borders Council’s road workers is voluntary, but council chiefs are trying to make this mandatory. Scottish Borders Council has contacted unions saying that not enforcing the same terms and conditions across the whole council could leave them open to gender pay discrimination claims, as the mainly male roads section of the council is not required to be on standby over the summer, whereas the mainly female care home staff are.

Union officials agree with SBC’s actions to ensure equality among all council staff and have written to members advising them of this.

In a letter to Scottish Borders Unison members last month, steward Greg Kelbie wrote: “At the time of the single-status agreement, all employees within Scottish Borders Council came under the same corporate policies. Any new corporate policy applied since that time must be applied across the board to all employees regardless of their job.

“This means that all rates for overtime, shifts, enhancements etc must be applied similarly to all employees.

“The point of single status was to eliminate historic gender-based discrimination in the workforce to ensure that men and women were treated equally and fairly.

“In 2018 Scottish Borders Council came to the trade unions and advised that they were aware that there were working practices which had continued within roads which were not in line with corporate policy.

“Scottish Borders Council identified, correctly, that this situation could leave them open to claims of gender discrimination; the council cited the mainly female home carer workforce as a direct comparator.

“That is, this group of employees worked to corporate policy while the mainly male roads workforce did not.

“There is no suggestion that any individual roads employee has done anything wrong in their wage claim merely that a practice had continued which Scottish Borders Council now require to address.

“It is our opinion that the equality rationale the council is using to justify the need for change to bring everyone under corporate policy is valid.”

Summer standby payments for roads workers is currently £85.31, albeit it on a voluntary basis, and Scottish Borders Council is offering to up this to £101 as long as it becomes mandatory.

In an update to members this week, Mr Kelbie said that union members were not enthusiastic about this offer: “We advised Scottish Borders Council this was not an acceptable proposal for our members and was indeed the ‘deal breaker’ which we would not consider signing up to.

“The council asked if there was a monetary figure per week which Unison members would work contractual summer standby for and we advised that the advice from yourselves currently was that this was not about money but was about the quality of life; whereby the winter period is almost dedicated to work for yourselves and there was a complete unwillingness to do the same in the summer.

“We did, however, advise Scottish Borders Council that if they considerably increased the proposed summer standby rate, we would take this back to our members to gauge their opinion.”

When asked whether the dispute was because of gender pay, a spokesperson for Scottish Borders Council remained tight-lipped, saying: “We are not changing terms and conditions of our road workers but ensuring the negotiated and agreed terms and conditions of employment are correctly applied in all departments of the council.”

Unison’s Scottish Borders branch has now called a meeting, to be held in Galashiels at a venue yet to be confirmed, on Thursday, May 2, to discuss what action members would like to take.