Councils across the Black Country have spent or set aside more than £110 million to settle claims from thousands of women workers who claim they were not paid the same as men.
The cost arose because of a change in the rules in 1997 that said councils had to give equal pay not just to people with the same job, but those doing work at a similar level.
It meant that jobs mainly done by women, such as cleaning and catering, needed to be paid the same as those done mainly by men, such as binmen. The binmen would get bonuses at some councils and these needed to be taken into account.
But it has come at an extraordinarily tough time for the authorities, some of whom say they have lost up to half their government funding as a result of Coalition-imposed cut.
As it emerged one dinner lady was paid a settlement of £190,000 in Birmingham, Dudley Council confirmed it had 3,800 claimants and has settled 3,300 of them. The cost is so far £52m.
The equal pay claims are a further burden on council budgets which have been squeezed by central government funding cuts, resulting in thousands of jobs being axed. Sandwell Council has so far settled 6,000 claims, at a cost of £33m, mainly in 2009 and 2010.
Wolverhampton City Council set aside £30m to fight and settle hundreds of claims.
One law firm alone, London-based Leigh Day, had more than 400 clients last year. But the council already paid out £33m in 2008 to try to settle claims.
Walsall Council has refused to reveal its current burden.
Staffordshire County Council said it settled claims in 2007.
Ravi Subramanian, West Midlands regional secretary for the Unison said: “These were people who were underpaid for years due to a disproportionate system.”Subscribe to our Newsletter