Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Glasgow Council Faces No Win No Fee Claim

Thousands of women who were systematically underpaid by Glasgow City Council for a number of years have begun legal proceedings to try and recoup the full amount that they are owed in back-pay.

Compromise package

Back in late 2005, the council offered the women a compromise deal, which would see them receiving a percentage of the due amount because, the council argued, to pay out the full amount would mean a dramatic cut in jobs and services for the community.

Even at the time, around 300 of the women rejected the compromise deal, despite what unions called "high-pressure sales techniques" to encourage them to sign. The women were generally employed in some of the lowest paid jobs in the council, mainly as care assistants, cleaners, school cooks, classroom aides and home helpers.

The offers' dealt with back-pay going back to 1999 and ranged from a compensation package of between Ј1000 and Ј9000.

Legal proceedings get underway

Now, many of the women have launched legal proceedings to gain a more favourable settlement and are also challenging the legal advice that they received at the time.

No win no fee solicitor Stefan Cross who is representing 2800 of the women who originally took the compensation packages has said that the lawyers involved had a conflict of interest by advising both the council and the women.

"We have just issued 893 letters of complaint to law firms, and many more are likely to follow in the weeks ahead. Our clients' allegations are that these firms were paid by the council, and the employees had no choice in the matter."

Cross alleges that the women were unfairly pressured by both the lawyers and the council into signing away their rights for much less than the real value they deserved.

"We allege the firms failed to comply with their obligations to the women as individual clients, and in particular failed to take time to advise the clients of the merits of the deal on offer, and as a result the women accepted offers that were far below the true value of their claims," he added.

According to information that was retrieved under a Freedom of Information request, the council spent Ј350,000 in legal fees.

Even with this "high-pressure" almost 1000 women ended up rejecting the pay offers and arranged independent settlements. According to figures uncovered by the press, these settlements were up to three times higher than those on offer in the compromise.

The council vehemently disagreed with accusations that they had misled or failed to provide independent advice for the women and encouraged the claimants to look to the lawyers for any bad advice that may have been given.

"The council's role was to simply to arrange for a number of different legal firms to provide independent legal advice to these members of staff. If people have any issues, they will have to take them up with those lawyers," said a Glasgow City Council spokesman.

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