A UNION has hit out at claims by a North-East law firm that it has failed its members over equal pay.

Stefan Cross, a solicitor based in Newcastle, said Unison had failed low-paid female members working for local authorities by not making equal pay claims on their behalf.

The firm said it planned to sue a number of Unison branch officials for negligence in cases where women stopped working for the authority and the union did not make a claim within the legal time limit of six months.

Legal officer Stuart Hill, who was expelled from Unison in 2000, said: "The only way these women can get any recompense is by suing the union for negligence.

"We are suing them because they are party to continued discrimination."

Lynne Robson, Unison's regional head of local government for the North-East, said: "We will be contesting the claims made by Stefan Cross, which we consider to be frivolous and vexatious.

"Our branch officials have worked within Unison's policy and they have negotiated in good faith with the employers.

"We have got equal pay claims in some authorities. We are considering if local authorities are prepared to come to a settlement."

Mr Hill said the firm would be acting on behalf of more than 1,000 women in tribunals against a number of authorities this autumn.

Darlington Borough Council last week offered £150,000 to 26 former care workers represented by the firm to settle out of court.

The authority has made a £4m provision to cover the cost of possible settlements over equal pay.