Government Discrimination Law Review Green Paper does not impose legal duties on private sector to tackle equality

Private sector employers have breathed a huge sigh of relief after the government shied away from imposing legal duties to tackle equality in its Discrimination 
Law Review

The Green Paper sets out to tackle the volume and piecemeal nature of the UK’s existing equality and discrimination laws.

The paper includes proposals for a Single Equality Bill that would put the law on equality and discrimination in one place, instead of the current system of nine major pieces of legislation.

Mandatory equal pay audits have been ruled out as “the costs to employers may be out of proportion to the scale of the problem they will address”, the review said.

Instead the government will focus on “promoting the spread of good practice”, such as getting more women into senior management or improving rates of return from maternity leave.

The Equal Opportunities Commission said the government had “missed a real opportunity” to tackle the gender pay gap, now standing at 17% for women working full-time.

The Green Paper also rejected the idea of a statutory requirement for employers to monitor and report on their equality practices. A reporting regime to guarantee the necessary degree of accuracy would be “bureaucratic, burdensome on employers and costly to run and enforce”.

The paper admitted there were “concerns” that current provisions for positive action measures were too restrictive by being limited to training and not wide enough to tackle other kinds of disadvantage.

The Green Paper was at pains to point out how this differed from positive discrimination, which it defined as “explicitly treating people more favourably on the grounds of race, sex or religion”.

Other proposals

  • Introduce an equal pay moratorium where employers could carry out pay audits and have a set period free from legal challenge within which to rectify any inequalities identified.
  • Develop an ‘equality check tool’ for employers to use, as recommended by the Women and Work Commission.
  • Consider introducing a voluntary equality standard scheme, which could be an independently assessed, accredited standard.
  • Important role for the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) to develop positive action guidance.
  • Extending positive duties in the public sector to cover all grounds of discrimination.

Source: Discrimination Law Review

Green Paper feedback

Susan Anderson, director of HR policy, CBI

“The proposals strike a sensible balance between greater consistency in equality laws and solutions that are broadly relevant and proportional.”

Trevor Phillips, chair, CEHR

“The government is right to address the impenetrable thicket of equality legislation that too often leaves everyone baffled as to what our rights might be.”

Richard Linskell, employment partner, Dawsons Solicitors

“I do not think our expectations should be too high for this review. The government’s track record is poor when it comes to introducing clear and simple employment legislation, and this does not give grounds for optimism.”

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