Union wins landmark equal pay cases

In April 1997, two cases were won in a major legal battle in the UK to bring about equal pay for work of equal value for speech therapists, which has lasted for over 10 years.

The cases have been hailed as a major victory for all National Health Service (NHS) staff by the Manufacturing, Science and Finance (MSF) trade union, which represented the workers involved in their cases. The union's national secretary, Roger Kline said that the: "case is a momentous one. It has implications for women staff throughout the NHS and other industries. It is a landmark decision and is the biggest single breakthrough on equal pay for women for many years."

The cases, in which the female claimants won their claim for equal pay for work of equal value, are likely to have an indirect impact on some 1,500 speech and language therapists, and are probably worth a total of GBP 30 million in back pay, according to MSF. The cases also mean that the NHS may have to consider seriously the way in which grading of all female staff in the professions is carried out in the future.

MSF has spent large sums of money on legal costs for its members and is determined to pursue 498 remaining NHS equal pay cases which are outstanding, until it wins. It claims that the Department of Health has already spent well in excess of GBP 1 million defending the cases, and argues that the Department should seriously question whether continuing their defence on a case-by-case basis is the best way to proceed in terms of the best use of taxpayers' money.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has long argued that women are being denied their right to claim equal pay, and that to make such a claim through the courts is a "long, arduous and expensive process" which can drag on for years. The TUC says that since 1984, when women first won the right to equal pay for work of equal value, cases have been passed back and forth between the British and European courts:" The fact that these women have fought for 11 years shows that the law is a mess and needs to be simplified. Women are being denied their right to equal pay by the deep flaw in the Equal Pay Act and so we will be asking the next government to overhaul Britain's sex discrimination and equal pay legislation."

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