The spectre of positive discrimination being allowed in the UK has moved a step closer, with the head of an influential new government advisory body calling for changes to the law.
Speaking exclusively to Personnel Today, restaurant entrepreneur Iqbal Wahhab, who was appointed chair of the Ethnic Minority Advisory Group (EMAG) last week, said he would like to see the government cut ethnic minority unemployment levels by half in a decade.
But he warned that it would “take 100 years” for market forces to bring ethnic minority employment in line with the national average. The employment rate for people of working age from ethnic minorities is 59.2%, compared to 74.8% for the UK population as a whole.
Wahhab said EMAG would lobby the government hard to take a series of “powerful and affirmative measures” to target both public and private sector employment practices, including possible changes in the law to allow positive discrimination.
“It’s not a policy you want to have to apply, but circumstances have forced these things upon us,” he said. “The merit will be in the results – the process is the thing nobody likes.”
Wahhab joins Sir Trevor Phillips, chair of the Commission for Racial Equality, in calling for a new debate on positive discrimination. Phillips recently said it was “a matter of national security” that the law be changed to enable police and intelligence agencies to recruit more ethnic minorities.
Wahhab said other drivers to raise ethnic minority employment could include greater rewards for Jobcentre Plus managers who place ethnic minority candidates and diversity audits for government contractors (which have worked in the US).
Delroy Constantine-Simms, lead consultant at specialists Ebony Recruitment Solutions, said while organisations like EMAG were a good idea, ethnic minority candidates must be qualified for the jobs. “It needs to be about talent, not skin colour,” he said.
Council joins list of ‘positive action’ campaigners
Brighton & Hove Council has been criticised for turning down a white job applicant, under a “positive action” plan.
Officials refused graduate Kieron Keenan a job at the Royal Pavilion Museum. Applications for the £9,000-a-year post were only open to people of African, Afro-Caribbean, Asian or Chinese descent. As the job is at trainee level, it is legal to bar certain candidates to encourage applicants from under-represented ethnic groups.
Keenan described the move as astonishing. He said: “To be seen as less discriminatory towards ethnic minority groups, the council has used a law that is blatantly biased against another ethnic group.”
Simon Burgess, the city council leader, said: “This is a way of giving positive trainee work to someone from a group that is under-represented at the council, which is different from barring certain races applying for a full-time post.”
Gloucestershire and Avon and Somerset police forces had to scrap schemes that used positive discrimination earlier this year, after the CRE ruled they breached the Race Relations Act.