Amendments to race relations laws will make enforcing anti-discrimination policies a duty, not an option, for public-sector employers. By Paul Nelson
A major step towards equality at work will be taken from next month with the introduction of new legislation for the public sector.
The Race Relations (Amendment) Act will force public authorities to eliminate institutional racism and promote equality of opportunity and good relations.
The key difference between the 1976 Race Relations Act and the new statute is that public authorities now have a duty to take action over race inequality.
From 2 April, public organisations will have to clearly define racial equality policies and assess the impact that they have on the recruitment, retention and promotion of ethnic minority staff. Annual results of the policies will be published.
The chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, Gurbux Singh, warned HR professionals at a briefing this month that less than 50 per cent of local authorities have implemented an action plan to take anti-racism policies forward since the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry.
He said, “Of course there are already examples of excellence and a great deal of good work is being done. But the excellence of the few only highlights the weaknesses that characterise the sector as a whole. All of us have the right to expect the very best from everyone in the public services.”
Many local government HR directors deny that compliance will be a serious problem. Francesca Okosi, director of HR at the London Borough of Brent, said, “Local authorities should be better prepared than other sectors, as we have always complied with section 71 of the 1976 Race Relations Act.”
Compliance is certainly on the agenda. Keith Handley, head of strategic personnel at Bradford Metropolitan District Council, and the next president of Socpo, said, “Never, never, never should equality drop off the HR agenda. Local government and regional council HR teams need to take a lead on equality and show the way forward to other sectors.”
Some HR professionals in local authorities admit hitting the legislation’s targets will be difficult.
Deborah Moon, corporate personn