Trade unions have demanded that the government keeps its promise to award them £5m to help boost the role of equality representatives in the run-up to the launch of a new single equality body next year.
The funding was originally recommended by the government-backed Women and Work Commission, whose report into addressing the gender pay gap in March said equality reps should be placed within employers to monitor pay rates.
But there is now confusion whether the funding should come in the form of new investment, or as part of previous money given under the controversial £10m union modernisation fund, according to the TUC.
The TUC wants the money to build up its network of equality reps across the UK and make a contribution to the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR), due to launch in October 2007.
Sarah Veale, head of the equality and employment rights department at the TUC, said the success of the CEHR and improved diversity across the workforce overall could be under threat if the money is not made available.
“The union reps are essential to the new body, but we need the resources to improve capacity and build up numbers,” she said. “If the money isn’t made available, it will damage our ability to do this.”
Veale said she hoped to meet Ruth Kelly, minister for women, some time this month to resolve the situation.
“The unions are to have a key role in promoting equality and guarding against discrimination,” Veale said. “Equality reps are going to represent one of the biggest developments for the unions so we need to make sure they work well and deliver.”
Kevin Rowan, regional secretary of the Northern TUC, said unions must be highly involved at local level, especially when it comes to guarding against discrimination and reporting on the situation at the front line. “We hope that a regional trade union equalities strategy will emerge,” he said.
For more on the Women and Work Commission report, go to www.personneltoday.com/34267.article