Gurbux Singh’s appointment as chairman of the CRE comes at a time of a big shake-up in race discrimination law. While enforcing this law is one challenge for the commission, the other is to change the attitudes of employers. Dominique Hammond reports.
Gurbux Singh, the new chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, is only two weeks into the job.
He has joined at a hectic time as he witnesses the most far reaching changes to race discrimination laws, since the Race Relations Act was passed in 1976, being pushed through Parliament. It is likely to be law by the summer.
- The changes will place a duty on all public sector employers to actively promote racial equality for the first time and give the CRE new enforcement powers to police the law. The practical details are still being worked on, but Singh sees the amendments – which the CRE lobbied hard for – as a major step forward in race relations in the workplace. They will also herald a change of focus at the CRE as it gets to grips with its new powers and reassesses its priorities.
- Announcing the Race Relations (Amendment) Bill at the beginning of the year, Home Secretary Jack Straw said the Government is "committed to achieving a step change in race equality in this country".
Singh, who sat on the Home Secretary's Race Relations Forum, in his former role as chief executive of Haringey Council, believes that enshrining in statute the duty to promote equality could indeed signal a major transformation. Particularly as its scope is so vast - covering the public sector and its supplier organisations.
But Singh is aware that for legislation to be effective employers need explicit information about compliance and regulators the power to enforce.
"It is one thing placing a duty but another to specify the sorts of steps they have to take to get there," he says. He wants the Government to provide detailed guidance that would require employers to set recruitment targets and to monitor them. They would report annually on their progress and the CRE would have the power to ask the courts to issue enforcement notices against organisations failing to make progress.
Employers are ambivalent about targets, recognising their usefulness but also their shortcomings. Rita Sammons, HR director at Hampshire County Council, said they can be useful as long as they are realistic and reflect the loc