A local authority pay shake-up designed to end wage inequalities between the sexes will leave a fifth of Birmingham City Council's female white collar staff worse off, it has emerged.
As more than 500 workers took part in a noisy trade union demonstration outside the Council House yesterday, a leading Tory councillor admitted 2,010 women, mostly in already modestly paid administrative and clerical jobs, stand to lose money following a controversial pay and grading review.
But Alan Rudge, cabinet member for human resources and equalities, insisted those adversely affected by the changes were at the moment being overpaid for the work they were doing. Their salaries had increased over the years and were "out of synch" with the value of the job specification, he added.
Coun Rudge (Con Sutton Vesey) said most of the 2,010 women would suffer only "modest" pay reductions – believed to be in the region of between £1,000 and £2,000 a year.
However, union leaders said the average pay cut for all employees losing out under the new system was £5,000 a year.
Letters informing 40,000 council staff of their new pay grades began to go out this week. Almost half, mostly female cooks, cleaners and care assistants, will qualify for a wage rise. Many will receive back-pay awards covering six years, with lump sum payments in some cases exceeding £20,000.
But about 6,000 will see their salaries reduced – in the most extreme cases by as much as £16,000 a year.
Coun Rudge (Con Sutton Vesey) said those hit by such a large pay cut could "probably be counted on the fingers of one hand".
All employees facing wage cuts will have their existing pay protected for three years, the maximum period of time allowed under employment law. When the three-year period has finished, only seven per cent of council staff will still be earning more than the maximum under their new grade and have to face a salary reduction.
Coun Rudge pointed out that the pay and grading review, part of the single status initiative, was a Government-led measure which gained the support of the trade unions nationally in 1997. It was hypocritical for the unions to oppose the changes now, having agreed to the criteria under which grading levels would be decided.
Coun Rudge added: "Removing inequalities in local authority pay is a good thing to do. We are putting in place a fair, modern and equitable pay structure which means that 45 per cent of staff will get a wage increase.
"Our old structure was discriminatory, bureaucratic and full of allowances and bonuses of dubious legality, which cost enormous sums for little return. It was just not fit for purpose.
"Our new structure closes all equalities gaps in the pay grades and gives the proper reward for a proper day's work to thousands of lower paid workers."
Steve Foster, chairman of the council joint trades union committee, said industrial action by the workforce was almost inevitable.
Mr Foster added: "People have been receiving their letters, and the phones in the union offices have been ringing off the hook. Even non-union members are talking about walking out. Everyone is really up for a fight."
Local authority trade unionists from across the country are expected to descend on Birmingham in December for a national protest against council pay and grading reviews.
Sir Albert Bore, leader of the opposition Labour group on the city council, said staff morale was at rock bottom. He warned of an exodus as employees quit the council to find better paid work elsewhere.
Council leader Mike Whitby said: "It is with great sensitivity that we have addressed the Government policy of carrying out single status. We want people to be proud to work for the city of Birmingham."