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Equal pay claims are made simpler by court

Tens of thousands of equalpay claimants whose employment cases have been on hold for years should be able to progress thanks to a landmark legal ruling.

The Appeal Court in England and Wales has simplified future equal-pay claims by removing the stipulation that employees put full details of their claims and male earning comparators in writing to their employer.

It was one of two judgements last week that unions say will allow some 30,000 people in Scotland to progress their stalled cases. Most of the claims refer to women who have been working for health boards or local authorities for less pay than their male colleagues.

In the ruling, Mr Justice Elias said: "Rarely can legislation have been so counterproductive.

"Provisions designed to reduce tribunal disputes have spawned satellite litigation in which arcane and complex points of law have been argued."

Graeme Dickson, an employment lawyer with Morton Fraser, said the ruling would allow thousands of people to progress with their cases. He added: "The technicality of the issue was in making sure the detail sent to the employer would give enough information to raise an action at a later date. This has effectively been removed.

"We understand that at least 7000 have been on hold waiting for the outcome of this particular case.

"The judgment was in England but will apply in Scotland because it is in relation to UK legislation. From a Scottish point of view the case is interesting as it overrules a Scottish EAT decision, which set a stricter test for what was the minimum information that the employee had to provide."

Alex McLuckie, GMB Scotland's senior organiser for public services, welcomed the judgment. He said: "This actually affects the vast majority of the 30,000 local government claims currently at employment tribunal so it is really very significant.

"For the system in Scotland to get a much more commonsense approach it seems strange that we would have to rely on the courts in England."

Mary Kearns, an employment law expert with Brodies, said: "The decision affects many of the equal-pay cases currently waiting to be heard by employment tribunals.

"The judgment concerns the circumstances in which the Employment Act 2002 prevents employees from bringing claims. The purpose of the Employment Act was to reduce the numbers of tribunal claims by making employees raise grievances with their employers before litigating them in tribunals. The idea was that this would result in negotiation and resolution of disputes and reduce the numbers of tribunal cases.

"In Scotland, the Inner House of the Court of Session has said that in assessing the matter, tribunals have to look at grievances sent to employers by those making claims to see whether they are 'essentially the same' as the claims made to the tribunal. They say that this can be done by not only looking at the wording of the grievance but at the surrounding facts and circumstances."

Last week the Equality and Human Rights Commission released a new report highlighting significant gender pay gaps in the finance sector.

The findings show that among the highest earners, the gender pay gap for full-time hourly gross earnings is 45per cent, while women working fulltime in the lowest paid roles in the sector receive on average 16per cent less in hourly gross pay than male colleagues.