New bill set to transform Equality legislation

The Government has published its plans to consolidate and strengthen current equality legislation by 2010. Announcing the new Equality Bill Harriet Harman, Minister for Equality said it would make Britain stronger, fairer and more equal.

Equality for all remains a challenge for the government and the current regime believe existing legislation needs strengthening to achieve this. Despite considerable progress since 1997 a lot of work is still required to create a fairer society and deal with unresolved prevalent social injustices in the traditional diversity strands, namely

  • Women are paid on average 23 per cent less per hour than men
  • disabled people are twice as likely to be out of work;
  • people from ethnic minority backgrounds are nearly a fifth less likely to find work; and
  • One in five older people are refused quotes for motor or travel insurance, or car hire.

The bill aims to unify nine major pieces of legislation and around 100 other measures will be replaced by a single Act written in plain English to make it easier for individuals and employers to understand their legal rights and obligations.

While supporting the philosophy of the bill, business leaders and opposition politicians have criticised some of the proposals. In particular a clause forcing companies employing over 250 employees to publish mandatory pay audits has been condemned for being an unnecessary administrative burden. The CBI is particularly opposed to this clause, though claiming to support its intention to encourage equal pay for women. The CBI argues that in practise the clause would hinder companies that currently have too few women in higher paid jobs by forcing them to publish a statistic which would deter other female applicants from joining that company.  However the clause is only a failsafe measure enactable in 2013 just in case voluntary pay audits are not common practise by then..

The Bill proposes 9 fundamental and groundbreaking changes to existing Equality Law:-

  • A new public sector duty to consider reducing socio-economic inequalities;
  • Putting a new Equality Duty on public bodies;
  • Using public procurement to improve equality;
  • Banning age discrimination outside the workplace;
  • Introducing gender pay reports;
  • Extending the scope to use positive action;
  • Strengthening the powers of employment tribunals;
  • Protecting carers from discrimination;
  • Offering new mothers stronger protection when breastfeeding;
  • Banning discrimination in private clubs; and
  • Strengthening protection from discrimination for disabled people.

More details of the Equality Bill are in “A Fairer Future” which can be viewed at:www.equalities.gov.uk

The Equality and Human Rights Commission have welcomed the bill claiming its role as a supervisory and enforcement institution for the bill. Conversely at the governments end there is still confusion for which department the legislative burden of enforcing will fall when the bill is eventuality passed through.

Regardless of what you think of the bill, of more significant note will be the party at the helm after the next election when the proposed bill could come into force, as this will determine how closely the bill will be enacted from its current form. While the bill has received widespread support from equality campaigning bodies, few will be encouraged by Shadow Business Secretary Ken Clarke’s response, labelling the proposed legislation “pointless” and “bureaucratic”.  Equality practitioners would be right to lose sleep over the very real prospect of a Conservative government diluting, or even scrapping the bill, the film “Titanic” comes to mind.


posted by Asif Yusuf




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