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West Sussex CC has settled out of court a long running equal pay legal challenge mounted by Unison on behalf of 1,5...
West Sussex CC has settled out of court a long running equal pay legal challenge mounted by Unison on behalf of 1,500 school welfare assistants. The deal will cost the council £1.2 million in 1994-95 and future costs may rise to £2.3m a year.

West Sussex has agreed new salary scales for the women, who will receive a 37% rise in their hourly rate from 1 April from £2.94 to £4.04. The deal allows for future increases to a top hourly rate of £5.13 for those carrying out the most responsible duties. Current salaries for welfare assistants start at £5,667 but under the settlement this will rise to £7,797.

The union submitted the equal pay for work of equal value claims to Southampton industrial tribunal four years ago. It compared the welfare assistants to library van drivers and search room supervisors in the county archives department. An independent expert reported back to the tribunal supporting the union's case that the jobs were of equal value.

The council had produced evidence of its own compiled by consultants Price Waterhouse to show they were not. We decided to settle out of court because the case had been going on for a very long time and was getting very expensive for both sides. We felt we had got as far as we could go in a tribunal and we were also following the advice of leading counsel', said county personnel officer Bill Tegner.

'As part of the negotiations with Unison I think we have reached a degree of understanding about how we should handle such cases in the future. Unison Regional Secretary Phil Wood said the case demonstrated there were many thousands of underpaid women. Pursuing the case cost Unison more than £100,000.

The union would be looking for new equal value cases to bring, said Mr Wood. We are looking for them because I think in local authorities in particular there is a very clear difference between men and women in the jobs they do and the way they are able to progress in those jobs.

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