Public sector embraces new legal duty to promote equality

Public sector employers seem well prepared for the new legal duty to promote gender equality, with female workers now accounting for more than half of the highest earners across the best English councils.

Trade unions have welcomed the news, at a time when public sector employers will be under increasing pressure to improve and promote workforce diversity.

The government is currently thrashing out the final details of the Equality Bill, which will require public sector organisations to measure and actively promote gender equality across all aspects of their duties.

The proposals will cover a range of employment matters including equal pay, promotion and pensions, operating in a similar way to the current race laws in the public sector.

Jenny Watson, acting chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), said the measures, currently under consultation, represent the most important legal changes in decades.

“Employers in the public sector also need more focused legal pressure on them to tackle all the causes of the gender pay gap if the government is to meet its stated aim of closing the gap – which remains at 40% for part-time workers, barely changed for 30 years,” she said.

Recent figures covering English councils suggest that local authorities are moving in the right direction, with women making up 54% of the top 5% of earners among the top 12 councils.

However, the picture is not so bright at the bottom end of the scale with two of London’s major councils – Wandsworth and City of London – reporting figures of 21% and 14% respectively.

Rehana Azam, an equal rights officer with the GMB union, said that progress was being made towards the requirements of the new bill but that more work needs to be done.

Turn to page 16 to read more about the new gender equality duty

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