Council fears latest legal fight over fair pay for women may cost £90m
DERBYSHIRE County Council's latest legal battle over fairer pay for women workers could cost the authority £90 million.
The council is fighting unions over whether or not various female staff should have got more money between 2004 and 2010.
The 300 claimants include care managers, caterers, day service workers, community support workers and finance clerks.
Chief executive Nick Hodgson says the authority could face a bill of between £23 million and £90 million to backdate pay over that period so it would be equal to that of other comparable employees. He said it was a major problem for the council, as it had only £15 million in reserve.
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Mr Hodgson said that the remaining amount would have to be borrowed and paid back with interest.
He said one way to find the money would be to axe about 600 jobs or cut services but stressed that this was a "worst-case scenario".
The job losses would be in addition to 3,300 jobs the authority has already said it could be forced to chop by April 2017 because of Government-imposed cuts.
Mr Hodgson said: "It's a big headache for us and it's taking a long time to sort out."
In 2011, about 4,000 teaching assistants became the first batch of employees to have fair-pay claims settled.
The council had been facing a £100 million bill if it paid claims in full but secured a last-ditch deal with unions that meant it only had to pay out £500,000. The agreement, which saw most teaching assistants paid £100, was reached after the council warned that paying the full amount of claims would force it to cut services and up to 1,250 jobs.
Mr Hodgson said he hoped a similar deal could be reached with the latest group of employees.
He said: "Clearly we would look to continue working with the trade unions on the issue. We've managed to reach reasonable deals with them in the past that helps their members and the council and I hope we can do the same in the future."
If an agreement cannot be reached, the claims will be determined by an equal-pay tribunal.
Mr Hodgson said that negotiations with the unions were "complex". He said: "The timetable set by the court is slipping.
"It was going to be sorted by the spring but it's looking more like 2014 now."
The Government has ordered local authorities to ensure female employees are paid a fair amount in comparison to male employees – a process known as the single status pay review.
As a result, a new pay structure was created at the council which showed how much different workers should get. This was implemented in April 2010 but the law enables claims to be back-dated for six years.
Unions also mounted a claim over back pay for 400 night-care assistants. The council settled this dispute for £750,000 in October 2011.