Wales

Equal pay: Welsh councils agree £75m in pay claims

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Media captionSchool cook Jennifer Jones spent seven years fighting an equal pay claim

The cost of settling equal pay claims by Welsh council workers has reached more than £75m, BBC Wales has learnt.

The final figure could be higher as a number of councils are still negotiating the implementation of equal pay structures.

Others are facing the prospect of expensive industrial tribunal claims by workers who refused to accept council pay settlements.

Council leaders say to date 16 councils have substantially settled claims.

Research carried out by BBC Wales News shows local authorities in Wales have already paid over £60m, and a further £17.5m has been set aside for future claims.

Bridgend has paid the most - £17m - in equal pay claims, followed by Carmarthenshire, which paid out £13m to members of its staff.

The £13m payout from Carmarthenshire, which has approximately 9,000 members of staff, contrasts with an equal pay provision of £7.5m by Cardiff council, which employs 18,000.

But a number of authorities, like Conwy and Flintshire, have not yet settled any, although they say they have set money aside to deal with any future payments.

Monmouthshire, Pembrokeshire and Torfaen are the only three authorities who have settled all claims in full..

Dominic MacAskill, head of local government in Wales for the trade union Unison, says the discrepancy in the amount paid out from one council to another stems from the scale of discriminatory bonuses which were paid and now have to be addressed.

He thinks councils should have sorted the issue at a much earlier stage.

He said: "Settling these past inequalities is very expensive and I think that councils have been trying to put it off in the hope that case law will change or maybe claimants will get so tired of the lengthy litigation process that they could reduce their costs.

"But what they've done in fact is squander public money on expensive solicitors, delaying the inevitable."

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Media captionProf Hugh Coombs of Glamorgan University says some councils are struggling to pay the cost

The Welsh Local Government Association says that to date 16 authorities have substantially settled their equal pay claims.

And those that are not settled in full are generally because staff did not accept the offer and are pursuing tribunal claims or because new claims have since come in.

Anna Freeman, director of employment at the Welsh Local Government Association, said: "There have been all kinds of different claims - there's been claims that have been attached to dead people, claims attached to people that have left - some have been multiple claims - some have cited comparators, some haven't cited comparators.

"So that in itself has been very, very complex for local authorities to work through all these thousands of claims - so it's been a range of very, very complex issues.

"So it hasn't been a case that it's simple matters of just paying a claim when it comes in."

Hugh Coombs, professor of accounting at Glamorgan University, specialising in public service finance, said some councils have struggled to pay the cost.

"Some authorities have settled. But some of these discussions have got fairly heated," he said.

"One example is Merthyr where there were quite serious tensions between the council and the trade union."

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