The government’s wholly unequal response to issues of equality

12 October 2012 By Roger Jeary The government's pretense of a consultation has ended in a decision that willfully ignores the views of the majority of respondents - unless, of course, they happen to represent the private sector

Commentary icon12 Oct 2012|Comment

12 October 2012

By Roger Jeary

The government’s pretense of a consultation has ended in a decision that willfully ignores the views of the majority of respondents – unless, of course, they happen to represent the private sector



“Putting Equality at the Heart of Government”

The above strap line appears on the front cover of documents produced by the Government Equalities Office. I suggest that a reference to the trading standards officer would not be amiss following the government’s response to the recent consultations on the Equality Act 2010.

You may recall that the government sought the views of interested parties and the public on its suggestions that employer liability for harassment of employees by third parties should be abolished and that employment tribunals’ power to make wider recommendations in discrimination cases and its obtaining information procedure (the questionnaire) should be scrapped. In both cases it received responses from large numbers of parties.

For the scrapping of tribunal powers for wider recommendations and the questionnaire procedure for further information, a total of 157 responses were received. Of those, 18 (12%) were in favour of repealing the wider recommendations provisions and 125 (79%) were opposed. Just 24 (15%) were in favour of repealing the obtaining information provisions, while 130 (83%) were opposed. Now you might have thought that the conclusions to be drawn from this response would be to drop this suggestion. But you would be wrong. Despite the fact that those opposed to the proposals were trade unions, equality groups, staff associations, the judiciary and members of the public – that is, those with most experience of using the processes – the government has decided that the small number of respondents in favour – i.e. businesses – should be given greater credence and therefore the proposals will go ahead.

Of the 80 responses to this consultation on abolishing employers’ liability for harassment of employees by third parties, 16 (20%) agreed with the proposal for repeal and 57 (71%) opposed it. All business representative organisations supported repeal. Responses which disagreed with the proposal were mainly on behalf of public sector employers, unions and equality lobby groups. Given this overwhelming rejection of the government’s proposal – which many felt should be strengthened, not abolished – once again the decision is to proceed with the removal of this liability.

So this apparently is what is meant by ‘putting equality at the heart of government’. This also brings into question once again the much discredited phrase that “we are all in it together“. Trade unions may already expect such disrespect from this ideologically-driven government, but now even the judiciary count for nothing. Unless you are running a business, you simply do not count.

ACAS describes consultation in the workplace as such:

“Consultation involves taking account of as well as listening to the views of employees and must therefore take place before decisions are made. Making a pretence of consulting on issues that have already been decided is unproductive and engenders suspicion and mistrust about the process amongst staff.” (my emphasis)

And politicians wonder why they are viewed with contempt and mistrust by the majority of the public.

The Institute of Employment Rights is a charity providing expert analysis to inform debate within the labour movement. We produce employment law books and host employment law seminars and conferences, authored and attended by some of the UK’s leading legal experts, academics and trade unionists.

Roger Jeary

Roger Jeary Roger Jeary retired from Unite in January 2012 after 33 year’s service as a negotiating officer and Director of Research. Roger worked in Northern Ireland, Manchester and London as an official of the union starting with ASTMS and then MSF and AMICUS before the final merger to Unite. In 2004 he was appointed Director of Research of Amicus and subsequently took on that role for Unite in 2007. Roger is a member of the Institute’s Publications Sub Committee. Currently Roger is a Trustee Director of FairPensions, an independent member of the ACAS Panel of Arbitrators, sits on the Advisory Panel of the IPA and is a member of the Manufacturing Policy Panel of the Institute of Engineering & Technology (IET).