Published: 24/10/2002, Volume II2, No. 5828 Page 8

Thousands of women employed by Cumbria county council look set to take part in a landmark legal challenge demanding equal pay with their male colleagues for jobs of equal value. The GMB challenge follows a Unison-led campaign on behalf of female staff - mainly nurses - at North Cumbria trust which has won backing from independent experts.The GMB believes the new claim could increase the pay of around 3,000 Cumbrian care workers. For the past 12 years, male employees, such as road workers, plumbers and fitters, have received annual bonus payments, boosting basic earnings by up to 50 per cent.Yet female council staff - including care workers - have no bonus scheme. Around 200 women have already lodged claims with the employment tribunal, but GMB officials expect virtually all the women excluded from the schemes and weekend payment to follow suit.

The council said it recognised there was a problem with the bonus scheme and had been negotiating with Unison and GMB since 1997 but had yet to find a solution.