GLASGOW’S equal pay claim settlement matters to 16,000 women workers employed by Glasgow City Council (GCC). Their wages were short changed because they were female. Historically, women were paid less than men for doing comparable jobs. This injustice dragged on for years but was resolved under the leadership of Councillor Susan Aitken.

More than half a billion pounds has now been paid to 15,500 women. An Audit Scotland report published last week told us there were an additional 150 women yet to agree settlements, with a further 480 not represented by those who took part in the deal.

Audit Scotland confirmed a further £44 million has been earmarked by GCC to settle residual claims. The current deal goes up to March 31 2018 because the council won’t have its new pay and grading scheme in place until April 2021. So, the bulk of affected women have a smaller secondary pay settlement pending.

This matters to you not just because it’s fair, but because Glaswegians are ultimately paying. To fund the settlement, culture and leisure buildings across the city were sold to City Property who gave the capital receipt to GCC from loans they borrowed on the buildings. City Property then leased the properties back to GCC on commercial terms. City Property is a council-owned arm’s length external organisation and it also refinanced its own borrowing to help pay for the half billion-pound settlement. What Audit Scotland doesn’t tell us is how £35m came to be deducted from women’s pay settlements for “legal fees” that no-one knows much about. Of course, those who have received the bonanza of fees will know all about them. This is what Govan Law Centre has found out so far.

The majority of women signed up with a claims management company (CMC) owned by Stefan Cross, Action 4 Equality (Scotland) Ltd (A4ES), who had their own solicitors. Thousands of other women were supported by their trade unions who arranged for Scottish law firms to act on each woman’s behalf. The largest group were members of Unison Scotland, then GMB, with a smaller group with Unite. In relation to trade union members, the women were repeatedly assured they would not have to pay any fees. Being a paid-up trade union member meant they were covered. Those who signed up with the CMC agreed to pay 10% of settlements as fees. None of the 15,500 women have ever been told how their equal pay has been calculated. They were simply told this was the sum of money on offer. There was no explanation of a comparative male job and pay, or a calculation setting out the pay difference each year, and interest, and pension details, and how the figure had been arrived at. Without this breakdown how would you know an offer was fair? All of the women’s cases remain frozen at the Employment Tribunal. No details of how legal fees were arrived at, what they were for, and who received them, has been provided. Here’s what we know. In January 2018, A4ES and the three trade unions entered into discussions with GCC. In January 2019, a settlement formula was agreed along with an agreement on fees. The solicitor firms involved signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which they claimed GCC required them to sign and keep confidential from everyone, including their clients.

On December 7 2019, A4ES suspended all of its activities when it transpired they were not authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority to act as a CMC in Scotland. According to Mr Cross of A4ES, 6.9% was taken from 15,500 women’s settlements to pay for legal fees. But whose fees? How can an unauthorised CMC accept fees from anyone? The Financial Ombudsman Service now has jurisdiction over CMC complaints. If fees were taken at gross – before tax, national insurance and council tax arrears – then the true deduction from women’s pay settlements may be 10% or more. Thompsons Solicitors, who act for GMB and Unite, have told Govan Law Centre that GCC “added a percentage figure to the Settlement Sum of every claimant who accepted an offer”. GCC has told the Glasgow Times this was untrue and that legal fees were not a matter for them.

Govan Law Centre has commenced complaints on behalf of some women affected to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. A solicitor can only act on instructions and must give their clients sufficient details to give informed consent. Many questions remain unanswered.

Were fees deducted from trade union members to pay a third-party CMC? If not, where did they go? How could this take place without informed consent? No-one knows because there is zero transparency on fundamental principles of client care and the MoU remains secret. I am in the process of drafting a free toolkit for the thousands of women affected in Glasgow which will explore all regulatory remedies in Scotland. You will hear more about this in the Glasgow Times shortly.