Diversity tsar, Trevor Phillips, calls for change in equality law to allow positive action

Pressure is mounting on the government to change the law to allow employers to take “special measures” in favouring ethnic minority job applicants.

Trevor Phillips, who takes up his role as the UK’s diversity tsar this week, has again insisted positive discrimination is necessary to end under-representation in certain professions.

“There are problems we have yet to find the tools to crack – where we may need to go beyond the reach of the current law,” he said. “Frankly, some areas of employment will never stop being all-white without new kinds of positive action.”

Phillips was making his last speech as chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE).

He now focuses on his role as head of the overarching Commission for Equality and Human Rights, which replaces the CRE, the Disability Rights Commission and the Equal Opportunities Commission in October 2007.

His comments are significant as Phillips also chairs the independent Equalities Review, which will recommend future policy to government in the New Year.

“We have to consider whether, when there is a clear public need, we must allow our institutions – even if temporarily – to take special measures with the aim of integrating their workforces faster than would otherwise be the case,” Phillips said.

Gloria Hyatt, director at recruitment firm Ebony Recruitment Solutions, backed Phillips’ speech. “It is necessary and timely that we should have a change,” she told Personnel Today. “It should be legal to recruit specific people on the basis of race and ethnicity.”

However, the Institute of Directors said it feared some employers would use the new powers for “inappropriate reasons”.

And Sasha Scott, managing director of consultancy Inclusive Diversity, warned that the move could end up being counter-productive.

“It could lead to polarisation and resentment as people think others have been promoted because of the colour of their skin,” she said.

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