A SECRET council meeting to discuss a massive pay dispute ended abruptly as opposition members stormed out.
The Policy and Resources meeting – which had led some critics to compare North Lanarkshire to North Korea –saw press and public excluded while councillors were only issued papers once they were at the meeting.
Meanwhile the trade union UNISON organised protests outside Motherwell Civic Centre.
The SNP group walked out of the meeting after being outvoted on motions against holding the meeting in secret and demanding speedier resolution of outstanding pay claims.
The SNP group’s depute leader, Cumbernauld councillor Tom Johnston, said: “Elected members are being kept in the dark over equal pay negotiations.
“We were not prepared to approve yet another secret decision behind closed doors,with councillors gagged and sworn to silence.
“Our move against exclusion of press and public was defeated 9 – 6 and that was the signal to take no further part.”
A pressure group has compared the council to North Korea for hosting secret meetings regarding equal pay.
The comparison was made by campaign group, Action 4 Equality Scotland, which is representing some of the workers involved in a massive tribunal.
Thousands of staff – primarily workers in traditionally female-dominated roles such as classroom assistants and home support workers – claim they are being underpaid and are also due years’ worth of back pay.
Mark Irvine of the Action4Equality Scotland campaign added: “If you ask me, this sounds more like North Korea than North Lanarkshire.
“Job evaluation and arrangements is supposed to be open and transparent business.”
However in an emotive response to critics the council’s deputy leader, Councillor Jim Smith, has dismissed comments he argues are “posturing”, “nonsense” and “mischief-making”.
He says this is because the council has already paid out more than £38 million to thousands of people.
Councillor Smith said: “Despite the posturing of others we will continue to deal with this issue responsibly.
“We have a proud history of paying claims where they are justified and I am sure that will continue to be the case.
“This is a complicated area of the law, and I understand people’s frustration.
“But the kind of mischief-making that is going on just now helps nobody, least of all the claimants and our staff.”
A council spokesman added: “It would be wholly misleading to suggest that North Lanarkshire Council has in any way been ‘dragging its feet’ in relation to equal pay.
“The council has settled or agreed to settle around 6,000 cases to date to the value of £38million.”