Gender equality duty

Q What is the new gender equality duty (GED)?

A The GED will require bodies across the public sector to ‘pay due regard to’ eliminating unlawful discrimination and promoting equality in their employment and recruitment practices, as well as their policies and services.

In its consultation document, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) suggested that the specific duty would involve public bodies developing and publishing a policy on equal pay for men and women. The government is currently consulting on the duty and what it might look like, and it is expected to take effect from April 2007.

Q What will HR managers need to do to comply with the new duty?

A Although similar to the race and disability duties, the gender duty has been specifically designed to be focused on outcomes. Therefore HR managers will need to use the information they have gathered to determine what the gender equality priorities are in their employment and pay practices, and then formulate an action plan based on these priorities in consultation with employees and unions.

The precise details of the law are still under consultation, and the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) will be arguing for some changes to what is currently proposed. We would expect the specific duty on pay to require public bodies to determine the pay gap in their organisation, find out its causes and take effective action to close it. To do this, HR managers will need to collect a broader range of information about the grades of men and women, the different areas where they work, along with their salaries, and the impact of the organisation’s employment and pay practices on the gender pay gap.

Q How will the duty affect recruitment procedures?

A They will need to be free from gender bias, although for the majority of public bodies, this is already common practice. However, to close the pay gap and promote gender equality, it may be necessary to tackle levels of segregation within organisations. Public bodies will need to look at creative ways of attracting men and women into non-traditional roles by advertising vacancies in different ways to reach new groups, or look at recruiting ‘non-traditional’ staff from the existing workforce for jobs where they are in short supply. There will need to be a better balance of men and women at senior levels.

Q How does the equal pay duty differ from existing legislation?

A The specific duty on pay does not replace existing equal pay legislation, but does require public bodies to be proactive in taking action to close the gender pay gap within their organisation. Delivering equal pay is not just about complying with the Equal Pay Act, but means taking action across the board, including addressing pregnancy discrimination, tackling levels of occupational segregation, and improving access to flexible working and high quality part-time work. A thorough review of equal pay would examine all the causes of the pay gap within an organisation, and help to identify ways to close the gap.

Public bodies need to have their action plans in place by April 2007, and the EOC would expect those plans to include specific, measurable actions to close the pay gap.

Q What kind of steps could be taken to ‘promote’ equality?

A These might include: widening flexible working to all staff and encouraging take-up among male as well as female employees; tackling occupational segregation by attracting men and women into non-traditional roles and retaining them; and ensuring all staff have access to training and development opportunities.

Q Does it only affect public sector bodies?

A The general duty will apply to all public bodies and private sector bodies that carry out public functions, such as running a prison, although only for the area of their work directly relating to the service. It should help to replicate best practice across the public sector – which will have a knock-on effect within the private sector.

Q What are the repercussions for non-compliance?

A The new Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) – the body that will succeed the current separate commissions for different equality areas – will have powers of enforcement. While we expect the vast majority of public bodies to implement the specific duties actively, if a public body fails to do so, the CEHR could seek a compliance notice from a county court requiring the public body to take action.

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