Sole equality body has to clarify the new laws

HR professionals have welcomed plans for a single equality body saying it
has a vital role to play in helping employers comply with complex new diversity
laws.

A consultation document, Equality and Diversity: Making It Happen, released
last week, outlines proposals for a ‘one-stop-shop’ equality body to replace
the three existing commissions.

A single equality rights commission would offer integrated support and
guidance for empl-oyers, said equality minister Barbara Roche at the launch of
the consultation.

Roche said bringing equal opportunities, disabled rights and racial equality
together in one body would promote a more coherent approach to tackling
diversity issues.

Keith Handley, CIPD vice-president for diversity, said: "The new
anti-discriminatory legislation on religion and sexual orientation will make
equality issues extre-mely confusing for employers.

"A single body will help and has to be the way forward, but needs to be
more business focused," he said.

While Fiona Bartels-Ellis, diversity manager at the British Council believes
that an equality commission would be able to provide much- needed guidance, she
is concerned that some issues will be given too little priority.

"A single equality body has potential provided it does not lose its
focus on specific areas of diversity," she said.

Equality legislation has to be right for a single commission to be
effective, said Beverley Bernard, acting chair at the Commission for Racial
Equality.

"If the Government changes Britain’s equality institutions without
getting the legislation right it will severely limit the chances of any new
body delivering equality. It is essential that change is driven by principles
and by a vision of equality, rather than by administrative convenience,"
she said.

A separate consultation was also released last week outlining new laws that
will ban discrimination on the grounds of belief and sexual orientation by
2003, and age by 2006. A single body would also cover these areas.

By Quentin Reade

Have your say in the debate

– HR has until 21 February 2003 to
respond to the consultation on a single equality body. The paper is called
Equality and Diversity: Making it Happen

– HR has until 24 January to contribute to the consultation on
the new laws banning discrimination at work on the grounds of religion, belief
and sexual orientation.

Both papers can be accessed on www.dti.gov.uk/er/equality

Feedback from the profession

Nicola Swan, equality and
diversity director at Barclay Group, said: "It is logical to put the
strands together, but the effectiveness of the resulting body is more important
than its structure. A lot of employers have good relation-ships with the
existing commissions. I hope the changes will not affect this."

Stephen Lloyd, head of diversity
services at the Grass Roots Group, said: "In principle it’s a good idea
but my concern is that all of the areas of diversity must carry equal weight. I
would want robust safeguards put in place to ensure disability would receive
equal attention as race and gender."

Sam Mercer, director of
campaigns at Employers Forum on Age, said: "There are lots of proposals in
the consultation that we welcome, but I am concerned there were no other
options presented than a single equality body. We need to look at what does and
doesn’t work in commissions before setting up models."

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