Up to 1000 carers could launch claims as Sunderland becomes next council to face equal pay scandal

The mostly female workforce say they face discrimination on pensions and pay - ITV News' Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana explains

Equal pay cases lodged against councils - like those that resulted in Birmingham effectively declaring bankruptcy - are spreading around the country. 

We can reveal that Sunderland City Council is next in line with a campaign launching today that could result in 1,000 female carers - currently working in the city - lodging legal cases against the local authority. 

They claim that their predominantly female workforce is facing discrimination in both pensions and pay, arguing that the city’s carers start out on a lower grade than council-employed litter pickers.

Cases ready to be lodged by members of the GMB Union claim Sunderland City Council has used an organisation it owns, Sunderland Care and Support, to put women on lower grades than those directly employed who do work of equal value.

They also say the structure denies them access to the Tyne and Wear pension scheme, and instead placed them on a significantly less generous scheme.

Kim Inglis, representing Sunderland GMB, said: "Sunderland Council have been underpaying women care workers for years, and we are determined to end this injustice.

"As a care worker, me and my colleagues do vital working supporting vulnerable people.

"I'm proud to be leading this equal pay campaign and encourage all women who work for Sunderland Care and Support to join the GMB pay claim."

She says carers are "owed wages" for years of work.

"Our work isn’t worth less than men in comparable roles."

Birmingham City Council effectively filed for bankruptcy in September. Credit: PA

It comes after ITV News revealed councils in Cumbria, Coventry and Dundee were facing hundreds of equal pay claims, following on from Birmingham that admitted liabilities of up to £760m.

The Midlands council - the biggest in Europe - went on to issue a section 114 notice, effectively declaring bankruptcy. 

Investigations by ITV News show the dire state of finances across local government with equal pay claims being one factor that can push councils over the edge. 

With 20 more councils being scrutinised for discrimination against female workers, this is one issue that could tip authorities over the edge.

The GMB claim that they've found discriminatory practices everywhere they look. 

Some issues involve male-dominated roles getting perks that female-dominated ones do not, but another big issue appears to be wages in the care sector failing to keep up with rising skill requirements.

Rhea Wolfson, who is leading the GMB Union's equal pay campaign, pictured campaigning in Glasgow. Credit: PA

Rhea Wolfson, who is leading the union's equal pay campaign, said: "Underpaying care workers is endemic through the labour market.

"Budgets have been balanced off the back of working women for too long.

"GMB is clear - we will not stand for it."

Sunderland leaders will face questions on this at a meeting of the whole council on Wednesday. 

The council said it had not yet seen the details of claims but released a statement saying: "We can confirm we have been contacted by the GMB which says it has concerns about terms and conditions for staff working with Sunderland Care and Support.

"While we have yet to see full and further details on those concerns, we are very happy to sit down and talk through these matters and seek a resolution."

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