UNISON took the case to an industrial tribunal in June of this year under the Equal Pay Act, after the council stopped paying enhancements for evenings, weekend and bank holiday working.
The claim could be worth up to £500,000 in backpay to the 200 care workers employed by the council.
The work of home carers at Knowsley BC had been rated equivalent to other, mainly male, groups of employees, including refuse drivers, but none of these groups of workers had their entitlement to overtime payments removed. The tribunal found that there was no justifiable legal reason for cutting the home carers premium payments.
'I am delighted that we have proved the council's actions were illegal. This settlement sends a clear signal to the council and other employers that they cannot pick on low paid women workers and get away with it. Home carers perform a valuable service to the community and the council were trying to exploit their dedication and commitment to their clients, many of whom are the most vulnerable in our society.'
Home carer Joyce Newton, who gave evidence to the tribunal, has been working seven days a week and bank holidays since July 1995. She said:
'This decision proves that we do an important job for the council and that they were wrong to do away with overtime rates. I am very pleased that we will be getting the proper rate for the job.'
Knowsley threatened to dismiss the women if they did not accept the new rates and under this threat the women agreed.
The tribunal found: 'They are low paid women in a market unsympathetic to them. Their agreement to the new arrangements did not amount to a genuine material factor which was not the difference of sex. They agreed to what was impermissible: the provisions of the Equal Pay Act supersedes their agreement.'
The effect of this case following the Ratcliff v North Yorkshire CC case is extremeley significant. Councils all over the country will realise that they cannot cut women's wages when faced with competitive tendering.