Equality Bill

// 28 April 2009

The government has finally come out with its Equality Bill, bringing together (and hopefully improving on) nine seperate pieces of legislation and 100 other measures.

Harriet Harman’s proposals on how to close the pay gap seem to be getting the most attention:

Firms which employ more than 250 people will be given a choice: sign up to a voluntary scheme, which involves disclosing the average pay of men and women, or submit to mandatory equal pay audits, the Guardian reports. Harman said the measures could help companies pulling themselves out of the recession:

“The economies of the future that will prosper are the ones which are not blinkered, held back by old-fashioned hierarchies, by a sense of women knowing their place, by overlooking the talents and abilities of people on the basis of the colour of their skin,” she told reporters.

“When times are difficult, actually fairness is at a premium and it does not cost anything to be fair. We don’t see this as anti-competitiveness – it actually underpins competitiveness. Equality and opportunity underpins a meritocracy. This does not hold business back, this helps business.”

What does the CBI say? This:

“Companies that have too few women in higher paid roles, and are trying to attract more, could be forced to publish a statistic that would deter female applicants and compound the problem.

“Consider a technology firm with engineers that are paid more, and support staff who generally earn less. At the moment most engineers are men, even though engineering firms are trying to attract more female engineers. The average pay statistic could easily be taken out of context and undermine recruitment initiatives by deterring female applicants.

Erm, yeah. Women might be put off working for firms with a demonstrable pay gap, so we should pretend the pay gap doesn’t exist? Because that makes sense, and the best way to attract more women and move away from employing men largely for better paid jobs and women largely for worse-paid jobs is clearly to never under any circumstances admit you have a problem!

Pay audits are obviously a better way to do this, because they get down into the nitty gritty, and don’t produce one bald figure on the internal pay gap in a particular employer. And, of course, they mean that individuals who are being paid unfairly might actually see that problem addressed. But, still.

Of course, the Equality Bill is a lot broader than equal pay… This report outlines the full range of actions it proposes and why, and the press release is also worth looking at, but this is the short version:

The Equality Bill will strengthen our equality law by:

1. Introducing a new public sector duty to consider reducing socio-economic inequalities;

2. Putting a new Equality Duty on public bodies;

3. Using public procurement to improve equality;

4. Banning age discrimination outside the workplace;

5. Introducing gender pay reports;

6. Extending the scope to use positive action;

7. Strengthening the powers of employment tribunals;

8. Protecting carers from discrimination;

9. Offering new mothers stronger protection when breastfeeding;

10. Banning discrimination in private clubs; and

11. Strengthening protection from discrimination for disabled people.

The Bill also includes proposals addressing multiple discrimination.

A seperate discussion document has been released on this provision, and the government is seeking responses including from individuals who experience multiple discrimination. The document outlines and recognises how the law is currently failing, for example, someone who was experiencing racist sexism:

We want the law to provide appropriate protection against the harmful discrimination people experience. Currently, the law does not always provide a remedy for an individual who experiences multiple discrimination. In these circumstances, the person experiencing multiple discrimination has to bring separate claims in respect of each protected characteristic, such as his or her race or sex. However, this can cause problems in practice because it can be difficult, complicated and sometimes even impossible, to prove such claims. Moreover, they do not reflect the discrimination which actually occurred.

For example, a black woman passed over for promotion by her employer because she is a black woman would have to bring separate claims of discrimination because of race and sex. However, she may not succeed in either claim if her employer can show that black men and white women are not discriminated against and therefore her treatment was not because of race or sex alone.

Helen has also posted about the parts of the Equality Bill which benefit trans people.

You can read the whole Bill here

Comments From You

Wisrutta Atthakor // Posted 28 April 2009 at 5:29 pm

It is definitely a step in the right direction and long overdue. I was watching the news on this last night on the BBC and was very excited indeed. However, I still remain rather sceptical of its success. I fear that it would still be difficult to claim against unfair pay; employers could still use excuses such as competency and claim that a certain employee is being paid more than another because they are more competent and not because of their sex. Those dinosaurs against the Bill are still using archaic arguments about how women go off and have children and how we couldn’t possibly pay women as much as men in these tough economic times. It makes me sick!

Karen // Posted 28 April 2009 at 6:07 pm

Anyone read the Daily Males report on this yet? Boy, are they frightened! All the Misogynists were out in force on the BBC’s have your say board last night on this issue too. Lots of them saying things like equal pay for doing equal work in a job e.g. heavy lifting apparently we arent doing these things, they are being our backbone, poor exploited creatures. If I had the space I would have mentioned that I am capable of lifting engine blocks etc with the correct equipment without the help of some hulk on my own thank you very much. For the ruling class that is so victimised in their own eyes (white, middle class males) their confidence appears to be going down the pan rather rapidly, must mean we are doing something right!

Amy2 // Posted 28 April 2009 at 7:31 pm

I don’t get why people, men and women are getting so literally angry over this ‘equality’ bill.

Oh yes, wait I do! Patriarchy, kyriarchy, hierarchy :)

Loss of privilege has gotta hurt. I’d sympathise if that privilege wasn’t used to make my life underpaid and generally shit.

CMK // Posted 28 April 2009 at 9:40 pm

I have read the Equalities Bill.

It is at best a codification of current case law. There are a few technical aspects that are positive steps but by and large there is not much that’s new. It is a real disappointment and has been, by and large, wholly misrepresented by the media. It is a real disappointment.

3. Using public procurement to improve equality;

This is merely forcing public bodies to do what they are meant to be doing anyway. Public bodies have reduced this to a tick box affair, under the Bill it will require them to be a bit more thorough in their checking.

5. Introducing gender pay reports;

Nope, it doesn’t do that. It gives the Secretary of State the option to require certain data to be published on no more than an annual basis. The Government has said it will not require this for at least four years.

6. Extending the scope to use positive action;

Erm, NO. Current provisions already exist to encourage under-represented groups. The scope to choose one candidate over another where they are equally capable and using a protected characteristic to do so is never going to happen. When did two identically skilled candidates ever apply for the same job??? Employers would open themselves to claims, far better to toss a coin!

8. Protecting carers from discrimination;

This is already law under a recent ECJ judgement.

Some aspects are positive but it should have been so much more. Hopefully as it is debated we will see many changes to beef it up, however if the Age Regulations are anything to go by we will see a watered down version three years late.

rita // Posted 29 April 2009 at 3:52 pm

My first reaction of reading this was, *rolling eyes*. It is hard to tackle racial or gender equality especially in britain because these are topics that are hard to talk about without dismissal. Hard to prove without feeling or being made to feel paranoid. Usually resulting into mind games and subtle bullying. But it is good that steps are being taken in the right direction, and hoping that employers will not develope tactics to dodge situations. Why am i not optimistic? Praying it makes a difference.

Gregory // Posted 2 May 2009 at 4:44 pm

I can’t see it working, the Gender Equality Duty went nowhere, ignore by virtually every local authority.

You are dealing with New Labour, they do gimmick legislation and protocols, ask Vera Baird for gender equality duty for Nunthorpe school !

So if Vera Baird, isn’t prepared to play ball, why expect a Tory local authority or MP?

Feminism needs to get delivery on stuff that is already there, otherwise it is hopeless.

If Vera Baird et alia, can’t be relied upon, then there is no point counting chickens.

Falco // Posted 5 May 2009 at 4:03 pm

“Harman said the measures could help companies pulling themselves out of the recession”

Not in your most fevered dreams. Companies with an eye on the bottom line will always take on the person who they believe will do the work best for the least reward. Extra regulations, however well meant, even if they have value for society in general, are not a benefit for companies.

Emma // Posted 24 November 2009 at 7:09 pm

I am interested in the comments written above and wonder if some of the contributors could provide more detail. I work for an organisation who I do not think discriminates against women either in pay or working conditions (I am a woman myself and hold a relatively influential and well paid role).

For those who appear to have been personally affected by detrimental pay or conditions in relation to their male counterparts I’d be interested in finding out

1) Why you believe this to be the case e.g. because you know what the male counterpart earns in comparison?

2) Are your roles directly comparable?

3) Are you talking about some other kind of detrimental treatment e.g. lack of access to senior roles for which the necessary skills and/or qualifications are posessed?

4) Why do you believe that women are more detrimentally impacted in the workplace e.g. ‘boys club’ mentality prevails in the organisation?

5) Under the current ‘rules’ so you think that there is anything you are able to do to improve your situation e.g. look for alternative employment (just an example to generate responses!).

By way of additional background, I am currently studying for an MSc in HR Management and writing an assignment around the Equality Bill. I’m interested in your responses in order to gain a better understanding of a wider range of people’s experiences in the workplace.

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