Bedford Borough Council faces a bill of up to £50 million over equal pay claims.
The council, which faces a financial crisis and must plug a £25 million funding gap by 2019, has already paid out claims totalling £482.890 with current and former employees advised to find out if they qualify for payments.
Darren Smith, director of law firm EPL (Equal Pay Legal) said councils across the country are facing lawsuits after failing to streamline pay scales by 2007 under the 1997 Single Status Agreement, and protected male employees’ pay with bonuses.
Mr Smith said: “There are two ways employees can be underpaid, one is getting a different wage for doing exactly the same job, and the other is for being paid less for doing jobs of “equal value”.
“The value of a job would be measured by looking at the physical, emotional and mental demands of the work, such as a refuse collector and a care worker but the care worker is paid much less, and is not eligible for bonuses.”
He estimates 5,000 people could be eligible to claim in Bedford, including care workers, teaching assistants, library staff, cooks, cleaners and council administrative staff. He predicts the average claim will be between £30,000 to £40,000. He added: “Bedford Borough Council has settled between 100 and 200 claims but this is a fraction of what other councils have done.”
Birmingham City Council faces claims of £1.1bn and has had to sell off the NEC Group for £307m to help fund payments. A Bedford Borough Council spokesperson said: “This council takes all its responsibilities as an employer seriously. The council signed a single status agreement with trade unions in March 2011 and terms and conditions were harmonised across the workforce at that time.”
An application to bring an EPL mobile advice unit to Bedford has been refused. However, there will be drop-in sessions for anyone who has worked for the council within the past six years, including those made redundant, at The Swan Hotel on Tuesday, November 3, from 3pm to 7pm, and November 4, from noon to 4pm. For more, go to equalpaylegal.co.uk