Ministers Resent Equality Laws

20 December 2012 By Sarah Glenister, IER staff The first in a series of articles using the Coalition Timeline to look at the various ways the Coalition has attacked workers' rights in the last two and a half years.

Commentary icon20 Dec 2012|Comment

Sarah Glenister

National Development Officer, Institute of Employment Rights

20 December 2012

By Sarah Glenister, IER staff

The first in a series of articles using the Coalition Timeline to look at the various ways the Coalition has attacked workers’ rights in the last two and a half years.

Not surprisingly, our Timeline reveals that the government has done far more to try and hold back equality laws than they have to protect or introduce them.

Demolition of the Equality Act 2010

As soon as the Coalition took power, and weeks after Labour’s Equality Act 2010 had come into effect, Home Secretary Theresa May began tearing the new legislation apart. First to go was the ‘socioeconomic duty’ – a legal requirement forcing public bodies to try to reduce inequalities caused by class disadvantage. The home secretary dismissed this responsibility as “ridiculous”.

Later, Ms May also scrapped Third Party Harassment protection, as well as the obtaining information procedure and the power to make wider recommendations during discrimination cases at employment tribunals.

Now, another key feature of the Equality Act 2010 is to be reviewed and potentially scrapped – the Public Sector Equality Duty, which was born out of the desire to reform public bodies following the discovery of institutional racism in the police force following the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence.

But it is not only Ms May tearing down important protections for workers, the whole Tory party is at it, provoking a shocked response from Britons when they added the Equality Act to the ‘Red Tape Challenge’ website. The government ignored hundreds of calls from the public on the website, stating that equality laws can never simply be interpreted as ‘red tape’.

Weakening of paternity leave

Nick Clegg’s recent announcement that maternity leave can be shared between parents after the first two weeks has been welcomed by equality campaigners, but unfortunately it is a much weakened version of the original plan, which has been on the cards for years.

Back in December 2010, the government lobbied against EU proposals for extended paid maternity leave and were still fighting against such measures in July the next year. Nick Clegg first announced his plans to push ahead with flexible parental leave – which was first proposed by the former Labour government – in January 2011, but it still has not come into effect, reportedly due to Chancellor George Osborne’s efforts to undermine the policy, and the delaying of the new laws by one year early in 2012.

Finally, Clegg reconfirmed the policy would go ahead in a speech last month, although his original plans to provide a six-week use-it-or-lose-it block of paid leave for fathers was dropped. Around the same time, a right-wing think tank suggested maternity leave was scrapped altogether and Osborne announced a cut in maternity pay in his Autumn Statement.

Scrapping of the DRA

Scrapping the Default Retirement Age was hailed by some as a good move in the fight against age discrimination, although some worried about its impact on restricting job opportunities for younger workers. It was generally agreed however that the government’s main motivation was to delay state pension payments by a few years. However, the bill indirectly discriminates against others. Women now have to prepare to work for longer and, as the state pension age increases, both genders may be forced to work in physical jobs that are not suited to them way into their older years. More likely, however, is that the loophole in age discrimination laws that allows businesses to forcibly retire their staff if they have good reason to will come into effect and would-be pensioners will be cast out on to the dole.

Farewell to the EHRC

The Equality and Human Rights Commission was first injured in 2011, when deep cuts left it unable to perform. It was cut again in 2012 and now shares its work with its ‘partners’ – including private sector companies, some of which do not even recognise trade unions.

Click here to visit the Timeline. In order to see just equality stories click the spanner in the bottom left of the timeline, select ‘categories’, then select ‘equality’.

The IER will be taking an in-depth look at recent changes to equality law and the implications for workers on 30 January 2013 as part of our second Equality & Discrimination Conference. Click here to book your place.

Get three recent equality books for just £5 as part of our Christmas Package.

Click here to see more articles from this series

Sarah Glenister

Sarah Glenister Sarah Glenister Sarah Glenister is the Institute of Employment Rights' IT Development and Communications Assistant.