Thompsons Solicitors marks the anniversary of the famous 1910 strike by speaking to one of their rising female employment rights specialists
This Saturday (07 July 2018), the Trade Unions Congress will hold its annual Women Chainmakers’ Festival. The event marks the iconic strike of 1910, organised by trade unionist Mary Macarthur, founder of the National Federation of Women Workers.
The 10-week strike was called when employers refused to pay women a newly announced minimum wage for hand-hammered chain-workers. The dispute was resolved when all the employers concerned formally agreed to pay the striking chainmakers the minimum wage.
In commemoration of the internationally renowned strike, and women’s unionist icon Mary Macarthur, we’re shining the spotlight on Kate Lea, an employment rights lawyer based in our West Midlands offices.
Kate advised the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) in the Supreme Court where the five justices ruled unanimously that civil service employees do not have to show the reason why they were disadvantaged in their claims against their employer, the Home Office. Below, she explains why working at Thompsons is the best decision she’s made as a solicitor and what it means to her, as a female lawyer, to be working in employment law today.
What were the main challenges of the PCS case?
The idea that not passing a generic competency test, which appears neutral and offered no obvious clue as to how it might discriminate against certain protected groups, proved to be a difficult concept for many to understand. Lady Hale’s clear, comprehensive judgment serves as a reminder as to why we have the concept of indirect discrimination which given it is intended to address inequality of outcomes can be established from statistical evidence alone.
What’s the best decision you’ve taken as a lawyer?
Joining Thompsons. As proud advocates of the trade union movement we often find ourselves at the forefront of legal disputes for workers. It has allowed me the opportunity to pursue cases which I simply would not have been exposed to in most other firms. I’ve been given the opportunity to pursue cases which simply would not have arisen in other practices, especially given the recent legislative changes. The Essop case is an example of this - without the support and financial backing of the PCS Union and the ECHR it wouldn’t have been possible to challenge the findings of the Tribunal and Court of Appeal which gut instinct and legal logic told me were wrong.
Who has inspired you in your career?
I’ve been fortunate to work with some very talented lawyers over the years whose knowledge leaves me in awe. The hard work and dedication of my work colleagues serves daily to inspire me. My dad also instilled a work ethic which has served me well during my legal career.
What’s the best advice you’ve received?
I recall being told at school that as a young woman, the best job I could hope for was a job in a bank! My dad encouraged me to strive for more and made me realise that with hard work and dedication anything was possible. My female colleagues serve as a daily reminder that my father was right, albeit case referrals are testimony to the fact that there still remains much work to be done before true equality is realised.
Which three qualities should a lawyer have?
Resilience, empathy and a sense of humour!
What law would you enact?
All those which have been repealed over recent years which have served to undermine workers’ rights, of which sadly there are too many to mention.
How would you like to be remembered?
As a hardworking, skilful advocate and a devoted wife and mother.
The Women Chainmakers’ Festival, running from 11:00-18:00, is the biggest commemoration of women’s trade unionism in the country and promises a day of debates, speeches, and music. It is held on Cradley Heath High Street – the location of the chainmakers’ strike of 1910.