Equality Bill criticised by employers as unrealistic

Controversial plans to allow employers to discriminate in favour of hiring ethnic minority job candidates have been branded unrealistic by senior employment figures.

The long-awaited Equality Bill, expected to come into force in 2010, will allow businesses to favour recruiting under-represented groups to their workforce if there was a choice between two equally qualified individuals, one from a minority group and one from an over-represented group.

Employment lawyers warned the plans would cause confusion in the workplace as to what constituted discrimination and what was deemed ‘positive action’ – the legal method of encouraging black and minority ethnic (BME) candidates to apply for roles. This would discourage employers from using the new rules for fear of discrimination claims.

Speaking exclusively to Personnel Today, HR director Guy Pink, at drug and alcohol treatment agency Addaction, dismissed the plans as “unrealistic”, because no one interviewee can ever be considered equally qualified.

“The argument is that you’ll get candidates that are equal at interview: but you’ll never get two equal candidates at interview. It’s unrealistic to think that. Ultimately you want the best people for the job.

“It changes the whole logic and professional approach to recruitment that has been drummed into us over the past 20 years: that you recruit the best candidate.

“If you start tinkering with that you undermine the approach to recruitment.”

Richard Kenyon, head of employment and pensions at Field Fisher Waterhouse, added the proposals could lull employers into hiring people based on their race or gender, rather than merit.

“The proposal actually means that someone who, through no fault of their own, happens to be in an over-represented group will potentially be treated less favourably simply by membership of that group,” he said.

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