Birmingham city council has recently declared effective “bankruptcy” with most news articles tracing the issues back to massive equal pay liabilities at the council. This does not tell the whole story though, and could worryingly give the impression that workers are to blame for the sorry state of council finances. Following repeated court judgements including one from the supreme court, it’s clear that the council was systematically underpaying women workers for decades, making this hefty “bill” actually just a fair correction to years of unfairness and discrimination.
A huge part of the problem is consistent underfunding of urban councils like Birmingham, as government ministers sought to find a way to cut spending without taking any of the blame.
The problem can also be traced back to the failure of management at the council to negotiate early with trade unions about the issue – by delaying settlement, the council built up hefty legal bills and increased the amount it needed to pay to ensure staff were paid fairly.
For a more accurate reading of the situation, we’d encourage members to check out:
- Birmingham TUC’s statement in support of council workers
- Watch: Novara Live covers the story on their YouTube show
- Guardian article that covers some of the funding cuts
Lessons we can learn from this situation
There is a clear parallel here with our own situation – the University of Birmingham itself is implementing a system that has some clear and glaring inequalities (such as the exclusion of all catering staff), and, like BCC did in relation to equal pay, ignoring objections from trade unions to push ahead with it. It would clearly be much better if they listened and negotiated properly with us now, rather than leaving unfairness and future liability to fester.
We know all members will join us in sending solidarity to our colleagues in Birmingham local government branch (who have always supported us in our own disputes). We stand ready to support them in any way possible in the coming weeks.