Right claim, wrong tactic

31st October 1997 at 00:00
The nine women claiming principal teachers' pay are nothing if not determined. Off they go next week to the House of Lords to pursue their case against the former Strathclyde Region. Backed by the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, they have already tasted both victory and defeat.

The strength of their case and their deeply held sense of grievance have a common starting point. For years they have done the work of principal teachers but employers have refused to recognise their position. For the Strathclyde Nine, the injustice dates back a decade, and the region and its successor authorities are accused of allowing an anomaly to run on unchecked.

Sympathy must rest with the teachers. Yet their case looks fatally flawed. It has been brought under the Equal Pay Act, hence the monopoly of women complainants, although men teachers have also suffered from lack of recognition. The issue does not turn on discrimination by gender. No one can accuse Strathclyde of paying women less than men for the same job. It is guilty of paying some teachers of both sexes less than others for doing similar jobs. That is discrimination of another kind which may be more difficult to tackle through the law. Yet the teachers do not have the right to drag in an irrelevant issue.

The law lords may balk at the gender ruse. If they turn down the teachers' application on that ground, the 12 former Strathclyde authorities will have won an unjustified victory and made it less likely that another 500 aggrieved teachers will succeed in their cases. The real test of employer discrimination will have been avoided. So the Strathclyde Nine should be sent on their way to London with only half a cheer.

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