How much more we could be
A personal viewpoint, written for the November 2016 issue of Your Voice, by Patrick, secondary school IT manager and Voice member (England), who was previously a Unison member. The views expressed are those of the author.
As a society, we hope we are raising a generation of people who would find the issues that we faced down entirely alien to their way of life. We hope we have created a world in which we can explain to our children that discrimination in any form is totally wrong – they would understand that reality on their own terms, of course. We would make sure of that.
A generation ago, an end was sought to unfair practices around pay and conditions between men and women, and to defeat misogyny. The target was men – for it was largely men – who paid their fellow men more than they would pay a woman to carry out the same work. May 1970 saw government legislation to this effect with the Equal Pay Act, which formed the basis for the 1997 Single Status Agreement between the National Employers’ Organisation for Local Government Services and the unions Unison, GMB and Unite. In April 2010, just before an election, Parliament re-affirmed its commitment to these goals with the Equality Act.
The aim was to close the pay gap between men and women, ensuring that the principle of ‘equal pay for work of equal value’ was applied across the board. There was a general feeling of certainty amongst those of us who were involved that this was the right thing to do. But we were wrong. Or rather, we went about it in the wrong way.
The ideals were right. Local councils were struggling to defend their salary arrangements against Equal Pay claims. We knew there were people out there who were getting it badly wrong, and we knew how to fix it. We just needed to put an appropriate structure in place.
Single Status was born out of these ideals. It went on to become a founding principle for the way pay and conditions arrangements were structured in local authorities across the country. It set out a framework that would allow Equal Pay claims to become a thing of the past in local government. It promised to harmonise the treatment of men and women, bringing an end to decades of mistreatment on the one hand, and mistrust on the other.
It was decided that it would be best if the ‘value’ of a job role – its ‘worth’ to the local authority – could be determined. After all, you can’t say a man is being paid more than a woman for doing the same work if you can’t define the value of that work. If only a structured way of doing this could be developed, it was reasoned, there would be the answer to these problems. The concept of ‘job evaluation’ – a mechanism intended to be an instrument of compassion – was, therefore, put forward as a potential solution.
But on each of the days when school support staff around the country (ironically, many of them women) opened their job evaluation result letters to find they had been judged to be several thousand pounds per year less valuable than they had thought they were, the voice of our compassion was silent.
To be continued…
Each local authority (LA) has implemented Single Status in its own way, leading to inconsistent practice between LAs. Some approaches have benefited members, while members in other areas have lost out, for example, teaching assistants in Derby and Durham (see ‘The Inequalities of “Equal” Pay Reviews’ (August 2016).
Tell us below what your experience has been.
For further information on Single Status and Job Evaluation, see: www.voicetheunion.org.uk/singlestatus.
Voice’s view (from November 2016 Your Voice)
School support staff
While the introduction of Single Status benefited many low paid staff employed by local authorities, this has not been the case for non-teaching school staff, because their working hours are usually less than 37 per week and they do not work, or are not contracted to work, all year round as most non-school staff are.
Voice continues to call and campaign for national pay and conditions for school support staff in the home countries, and for their terms and conditions of employment to recognise and value their significant contribution to education.
School teachers, youth workers and chief officers are exempt from the Single Status agreement because their terms and conditions of employment are distinctly different. Teaching assistants’ working patterns, however, are similar to those of teachers, so we believe that TAs’ terms and conditions should reflect this, and that the Single Status and Equal Pay process should achieve its stated intention of addressing inequalities of pay and conditions for all staff – not making savings at their expense.
Voice endeavours to ensure, through negotiation, often with other unions, the best possible outcome for our members.