Major new equality laws under threat from new government

18 June 2010 by

The Equality Act 2010 may be a quiet addition to the Coalition Government’s repealing agenda as the Government Equality Office (GEO) withdraws the timetable for its implementation.

According to Out-law.com, a spokesperson from the GEO said “An announcement on scheduling for implementation of the Equality Act will be made in due course” and also confirmed that the new Government is not bound by the timetable set by its predecessor.

The Equality Act 2010 was passed into law on in the dying days of the New Labour government despite opposition of from the Pope, who complained that it would run contrary to “natural law” due to its likely effect on Catholic adoption agencies. The Conservatives may have more luck, however, in thwarting the Act’s implementation and in particular three aspects of it which they are opposed to. Some of the main provisions were supposed to come into force in October, but this now appears to have been put on hold. The original timetable can be accessed here.

As Out-law.com reports, the larger Coalition partner was opposed pre-election to three aspects of the Act:

  1. Positive discrimination when hiring: A provision that when hiring, companies could discriminate in favour of people from under-represented groups such as women, ethnic minorities or disabled people, but only if candidates were equally well qualified.
  2. Compulsory Equal pay reporting: A requirement that companies report the gap between the amount they pay women and the amount they pay men. In their manifesto the Conservatives said that they would only force equal pay audits on any company “who loses an employment tribunal case on grounds of gender pay discrimination.”
  3. Soci0-economic resource allocation: A provision forcing public authorities to take socio-economic factors into account when allocating their resources.

This is not to say that the Act will be repealed entirely. Rather, the Conservatives are likely to fulfil their pre-election pledges, probably simply by delaying implementation of the less favoured sections of the Act indefinitely.

Equality is at least to some extent on the new government’s agenda, although the clear focus in terms of business and jobs is to support and create rather than to hinder employers with expensive new laws.

The Conservatives pledged in the equalities section of their manifesto to “take action to close the gender pay gap, get more women onto boards of public companies and set up mentoring schemes for female and ethnic minority entrepreneurs to help them succeed in business.” This was reflected in the Equalities section of the Program for Government, where the parties pledged to “promote equal pay and take a range of measures to end discrimination in the workplace.” Nick Clegg, however, said last year that he considered the Autumn 2010 timetable for implementation may delay the economic recovery.

The Equality Act 2010 received royal assent on 8 April 2010. Its aim was to consolidate what until now has been a messy jigsaw of 116 pieces of legislation, and further harmonise UK law with the four key EU Equal Treatment Directives.

The prospects for the Act, or at least certain sections of it, is now in doubt. More importantly, it is also unclear how the balancing act between the coalition partners will ultimately affect equality reform in the coming five years.

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