COUNCIL workers are a step closer to cash payouts after the House of Lords backed their equal pay fight.
South Tyneside Council appealed an earlier decision by the High Court for back pay payments to be given to female school staff.
It followed a long-running dispute, going back to 2005, that their male counterparts were being paid more for doing the same work.
The Lords' decison means the authority faces a 5m compensation payout.
Last month, council chiefs won 8m funding from Central Government to cover the costs of the payouts.
The cases related to the right of schools-based staff to claim equal pay comparing themselves with non-schools based male staff.
In 2005 the tribunal ruled that payments to men such as road sweepers and refuse workers were discriminatory and not justified.
The council paid out to female manual workers such as cooks and cleaners and carers, but did not make payments to other school staff such as teaching assistants, nursery nurses, school secretaries and admin staff.
Now workers can claim for the full six years plus interest. Most of them do not even know they have claims. If they all made claims, it could cost the council more than 5m.
Stefan Cross, the solicitor for the women, said: "We are delighted that low-paid schools staff are finally near to receiving their entitlement.
"Provided that they can establish they their jobs are equal to a road sweeper, all of them should finally receive their entitlements in 2008.
"We call on the council and the unions to recognise the value of these workers, and not to try to rob them of their entitlement in the new pay arrangements."
Stefan Cross and Action4Equality are arranging a series of meetings to explain these decisions in the next two weeks.
The first is to be held at the Masons Hall, Ingham Street, South Shields on Friday, November 2, at 7.30pm.
No one from South Tyneside Council was available for comment today.