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Positive Action Clause to be implemented by Coalition

As part of the governments new Equality Strategy announced earlier this week the Coalition have confirmed discretionary Positive Action considerations will be given to employers deciding between two candidates of equal merit.

The move drafted into a yet unimplemented part of the Equality Act will mean employers can tackle underrepresentation in the workforce by favouring candidates with protected characteristics, or who may not be reflected in their current employee make up.  For example employing a male legal secretary where the majority of the workforce is female, or hiring a female engineering apprentice where most of the workforce is male.
 
The measure is distinguishable from controversial positive discrimination measures used across the Atlantic where a candidate may be hired based on specific characteristic despite their suitability for a specific job, this remains illegal in the United Kingdom. Furthermore the coalition have emphasised that if the positive action measures result in a specific characteristic repeatedly favoured in the recruitment process this will also be illegal.
 
So for those of you pondering how this will work in practise, if you can ever truly get two candidates that are of equal merit for job or promotion? What constitutes merit, how much does suitability and qualifications play a part? The government aim to publish a formal guide by the turn of the year.
 
Employers will not be compelled to use the measures, but the pressure will be on. Public Sector organisations are expected to publish more data on their performance on equality, no doubt including their workforce make up. The same may be true of larger private sector companies. While the Coalition have confirmed they will not be implementing mandatory gender pay audits immediately , this very much depends on the take up for voluntary audits for companies employing over 150 staff.  The government has hinted it will enforce the mandatory pay audit clause of the Equality Act if the take up is poor. 
 
Speaking to an audience of business leaders at London’s Docklands, Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone said:
 
“Today’s Equality Strategy is our blueprint for change, including plans for voluntary pay reporting and positive action in recruitment and promotion. These plans are absolutely not about political correctness, or red tape, or quotas. They are about giving individual employers the tools they need to help make the workplace fairer.”
 
The Positive Action clause of the Equality Act is expected to be enacted in April 2011.

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