Apr 16, 2011

Equality is nothing but red tape?

As part of its '"red tape busting challenge", the government is proposing to get rid of equality legislation. It's not clear whether they think scrapping the one Equality Act 2010 and reverting to the multiple bits of pieces of law we had before is good for reducing red tape or whether they just think equality is a bore and wish they could "liberate" the "market" from it, but they're asking for people's opinions. Below is mine.


The Government's proposal to "scrap" the above act as "red tape" is revealing in the extreme. To explain by way of example:

- Section 66 of the Act stipulates that employees should not have a clause in their employment contract that  is less favourable than another employee's employment contract, on the grounds of difference of sex. It basically says that all employees should be entitled to have equitable and similar terms of employment; this seems such a basic requirement of a functioning economy that I am surprised to see it legislated for: I'd have expected it to simply have been the case everywhere, all the time.

Evidently I, and other members of the public are naive in not understanding that the simple requirement to not write prejudicial contracts for employees is a sizeable enough burden of "red tape" on companies that the Government sees fit to have it "scrapped".

What evidence does the Government have of this? Have employment contracts in the public sector been scrutinised to show that so many of them are inequitable as would require a major investment of resources by employers to correct? If so, why id the Government not sharing this important and worrying information with its public prior to proposing "scrapping" the legislation that would correct this state of affairs?

- Section 74 of the Act refers to the provision that should be made for a woman not to lose entitlements to pay increases and bonuses that she would have been entitled to had she not gone on maternity leave, because she went on maternity leave. the perceived need for this clause implies that at the moment, employers are depriving women of pay rises and bonuses they had earned while in full time work, because the pay out time falls within their term of absence - which is self evidently inequitable, bordering on fraudulent.

By proposing to "scrap" the legislation, the Government is signalling to employers that depriving employees of pay they had legally earned is an allowable action in some circumstances (when the employee is a woman, and when she is not physically in the office due to statutory maternity leave).

This is a dangerous precedent to set, and to my mind speaks to the fact that the government is proposing the "scrapping" out of a feeling that employees who "really matter" to "alarm clock Britain" (read: men) would simply never be in a position where their pay can be simply not given to them, for some seemingly plausible excuse - a dangerous and as I say, revealing assumption to make.

I am dismayed and alarmed that the Government of Britain considers protecting the people of Britain from such obvious unfairness and rapacity as illustrated in the two brief examples above unnecessary "red tape", rife for "scrapping". It shows a commitment primarily to a narrow and shrinking constituency: that of people whose lives are never touched by discrimination.

The reality of this country is that many people can and do discriminate on a variety of grounds against their fellow human beings, for reasons of principle as well as simple profit. That the Government does not consider it part of its mandate to bring these people to book is a sad reflection on the state of social cohesion in this country, a step so far removed from the rhetoric of fairness and "Big Society" as to be farcical.

My recommendation to the Government is to implement the Equality Act 2010 in its entirety without delay, especially with regard to the new provisions such as pay equality audits. Only in an environment of transparency can fairness be seen as well as talked of, and only then can we begin to build a truly big - in the sense of broad, inclusive, and all-encompassing - society.

You can find the consultation papers and respond here. Hat tip to Anna for sending round the link and prompting me to comment!

1 comment:

  1. That isn't a proposal to scrap the act. The site is listing *every* business regulation and asking for comment. You can pick a link like any of these and construct a "campaign" around it. e.g. http://www.redtapechallenge.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/health-and-safety/fire-safety/