Waltham Forest schools staff underpaid for more than five years

Term-time staff in Waltham Forest’s mainstream schools are owed more than £1million after being underpaid for more than five years.

In September 2019, trade union GMB informed Waltham Forest Council it had “historically miscalculated the payment of annual leave” for part-year staff since January 2016.

The error affects some staff within the council itself and cleaners, kitchen staff and teaching assistants in all of the borough’s mainstream schools.

The council estimates the total cost of compensating underpaid staff will be £1.8m and, at a cabinet meeting on Thursday July 8, its leadership agreed to split this cost halfway with affected schools.

Speaking at the cabinet meeting, deputy leader Clyde Loakes said: “It’s unfortunate it happened in the first place but I’m pleased we have been able to get a deal on the table straight away.

“This is a group of staff who are predominantly women and from our BAME community so it’s right to get this resolved as soon as possible.”

Cllr Loakes referenced a report discussed at the last cabinet meeting, which noted the average woman of colour working for the council earned £2.78 less per hour than her white counterpart.

A report prepared for cabinet stated the “origins of the miscalculation are not known” and that “different and inconsistent calculations have been applied with no available reasoning”.

Waltham Forest is not the only council to have made such an error and the report notes that Greenwich, Lambeth, Lewisham and Brighton have all “already settled” with underpaid staff.

In 2018, Greenwich Council agreed to pay 5,000 workers around £4m after a similar miscalculation meant they lost up to five days’ pay a year.

The settlement was the result of a five-year legal battle brought by Unison union.

While the report notes some councils paid all or none of the money owed, it argues “a 50/50 split” with mainstream schools “is the most appropriate way forward”, adding it will “strongly encourage” academies to mirror this offer.

The report argues that, if the council did not “contribute equally to the resolution”, there could be “a very real and serious threat” that mainstream schools might struggle financially or even convert to academies.

While individual payments are yet to be calculated, the council estimates it will cost £1.8m to compensate all affected staff, with £1.1m going to school staff.

Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter