A report on our recent conference covering equality law and protecting workers’ rights.
Photo by Tim Mossholder
17th October 2019
By Charlie Wilson, Merseyside Trade Union Education
I have been to many conferences at the Institute of Employment Rights and I have always found them informative and thought-provoking, generating discussion amongst attendees.
Today’s conference, which I was fortunate enough to attend, was around Equality and Discrimination. Those of us who attended, both old and new, were not disappointed in the content or the speakers. Unfortunately John Page from The Equality Trust was unable to speak, but the presentation he planned to give can be downloaded here. He also intended to run an activity, which can be downloaded here.
James Harrison, chairing the conference gave an overview of the day and gave an update on forthcoming events and literature from the IER: information regarding these can be found on the website.
Organising black, Asian and ethnic minority women in communities
We then had the first speaker of the day, Sue Pollard from Unite who was going to talk about Organising Black, Asian and ethnic minority women in communities. Sue told us that Unite are currently building a new regional office in Bradford as there was nothing between Manchester and Leeds. Sue told us about what Unite have been doing in Bradford to organise, especially in regards to women in the BAME community, including a huge mapping exercise across multiple sectors of business.
How Metro Mayors can help in tackling workplace discrimination
We then had our second speaker, Lynn Collins who is the regional secretary for the TUC however Lynn is currently attached to LCR Combined Authority working with Metro Mayor Steve Rotherham. Lynn spoke to us about how Metro Mayors can help in tackling workplace discrimination. Lynn started off by talking about poverty in society and the effects of it on mental health. Lynn told us that there was a growth strategy for the City to turn this around and an investment fund to help discriminated groups. Lynn told us how metro Mayors and combined authorities across the country were looking to create fair employment charters for employers. London and Manchester are already further along with this and Liverpool is in the first stage of consultation. The charter is looking to have things live employers must sign up to things like paying the real living wage, investing in people, recognising trade unions. Lynn told us that the metro Mayors of Liverpool and Manchester are looking to work together on this.
The third speaker, Caroline Underhill from Thompsons Solicitors, who specialised in equal pay gave us a talk on equal pay. Caroline told the conference that equal pay was a very complex issue, so complex that many barristers have trouble with it. Caroline told us that out of the nine protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act 2010, that equal pay claims have different time limits than the usual three months minus a day. Caroline then went on to tell us about a case McNeill Vs HMRC and discussed how in equal pay cases the law only applies horizontally and not vertically, so you could make a comparison against colleagues of a same/similar grade, but not the boss. Caroline then discussed other aspects of pay claims like how equal pay is not just a battle cry, but a battle and that unions should be leading the fight for equal pay through collective bargaining.
Our last speaker of the day was Paul Scholey from Morrish Solicitors. Paul was going to talk to us about new and interesting case law around discrimination. He opened by talking about a case in France, Xavier X Vs TSO. Paul told us that we can’t use the case in this country as the laws were specific to France, but he thought it was interesting. Paul then went through other bits of case law that deal with harassment, discrimination, disability and constructive knowledge, perceived disability and several cases regarding religion/belief. Through the talk, Paul’s knowledge of case law and how to use it was excellent.
Trade union representatives need to keep up to date with not only employment legislation but how the law is being interpreted by the courts and this conference will enable representatives to support their branches and members more fully. It’s also important to understand how using tools like mapping members and potential members, the importance of collective bargaining and how the metro Mayors charter will be vitally important to workers in the future.