IN February, I wrote about where £35 million of equal pay for 15,500 Glasgow women workers had gone to in legal fees. No-one knew, not least the women themselves. Several thousand women had been told by their trade union that no fees would be deducted as this was the benefit of being in a trade union. Yet, they were advised by solicitors to sign settlement agreements with a clause about fees. If you didn’t sign, tough luck. No money.

Since then, four women have asked their trade-union-appointed solicitors questions about fees and how their equal pay offer was calculated. Questions like: “Why is my offer being paid minus ‘a payment towards disbursements, legal fees and administrative expenses’?”; “Who is receiving these fees and why?”; “How do I know this offer is fair if you can’t tell me how it’s been calculated?” Hundreds of other women have the exact same concerns.

But after asking these simple questions over a number of weeks, the law firms no longer act for two of the four women as clients. The women felt they were getting nowhere and had no choice but to complain to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – and the breakdown in trust between them and the firms means they won’t be representing them at their employment tribunal cases.

It’s quite staggering. You can’t get simple answers about fees, or how an offer of settlement has been calculated?

The two women – like so many of the equal pay workers in Glasgow – are key workers, home carers who provide essential services for the most vulnerable in the city during the Covid-19 pandemic.

It’s shameful how these trade union members of Unison and the GMB have been treated for trying to find out why money was taken from them and who received it. They have been abandoned.

Govan Law Centre (GLC) assisted all of the four women to submit their complaints to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and will protect their rights. Their complaints concern the failure of solicitors to provide the necessary disclosures to them and obtain their proper instructions in relation to fees and how offers were calculated.

Trying to find out answers to these questions has been like wading through treacle. Last year, Glasgow City Council (GCC), the trade unions and the claims management company Action 4 Equality Scotland (A4ES) entered into a confidential memorandum of understanding (MoU). The MoU set out how fees and equal pay offers would be calculated for 15,500 workers.

How can fees and charges deducted from a massive disbursement of half a billion pounds of public money be kept confidential? Secret from whom – the women workers who were legally entitled to the money?

It’s important to remember one of the firms, who act for GMB and Unite, have said that GCC “added a percentage figure to the settlement sum of every claimant who accepted an offer”. GCC have denied this and maintain no additional payment was added to compensate for a deduction in fees. So, who got the £35m in fees from the women’s wages? And with whose agreement?

The women who have asked for simple answers are determined to get to the truth. Helen works as a home carer in the city and said: “I’m still as much in the dark as I was when I started. I don’t know how my claim was calculated or who my job comparator was.

“I was told no legal fees. Well, I never got that. I’ve had no breakdown of fees.

“I understand that thousands of pounds were taken off me and given to a privately owned company, A4ES. My lawyer never consulted with me about this.”

Lorraine also works in home care. She said: “My equal pay fight began in December 2006.

“I received my offer in 2019, I was told I could not discuss my offer with anyone and if I did not accept the offer my union and lawyer would no longer represent me. I asked for clarity on how they calculated my offer, which I felt was entirely reasonable.

“All I ever wanted was a fair and transparent outcome. I also think the toll this fight has taken on myself and others should not be underestimated.”

Fiona is a home carer in the city. She said: “My union, Unite, said from the start I would receive 100% compensation – that is why I stayed with my union. I have been left feeling upset as never once throughout the whole process was I told I’d be paying 6.9% to a third party who I never asked to represent me.”

Audit Scotland has undertaken a review of the overall equal pay settlement process in Glasgow. But neither it, nor anyone else, has ever accounted for, or explained, the disbursement of £35m of the women’s money in legal fees. This is an issue that has to be made transparent. Whether through an Audit Scotland review, inquiry from the parliament’s Local Government committee or through other legal remedies.

With thousands of Glasgow women workers due a final equal settlement payment for the period April 1, 2018, to April 2021, there is time to stop this injustice happening again.