Single equality body sets off row over unifying law

Both the public and private sectors have welcomed the Government’s
announcement of a single equality commission, but the news has put the
different sides at loggerheads over the future of equality legislation.

The Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) will combine the
existing equality commissions – the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), the
Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) and the Disability Rights Commission (DRC)
– as well as taking responsibility for religious, sexual orientation and age
discrimination.

The CEHR aims to save businesses time and money by offering a ‘one-stop
shop’ for advice on diversity and equality.

The public sector is now pressing for a single equality Act to ensure that
all the groups covered by the CEHR have the same degree of protection from
discrimination.

"The need for [unified] legislation to accompany the work of the CEHR
is very important," said Bert Massie, DRC chairman. "Without it, it
would be easier for the CEHR to fail than to succeed," he added.

Mandy Wright, director of workforce and diversity issues at the Employers
Organisation for Local Government, is on the taskforce created to develop the
CEHR and said she would welcome a single equality Act.

However, the CBI said employers would strongly oppose the creation of a
single Act.

Neil Bentley, the Confederation of British Industry’s head of employee
relations and diversity and a member of the CEHR taskforce, said: "Rushing
towards a single equality Act could be an attempt to rush through a
one-size-fits-all approach, with all rights and duties raised to the highest
common denominator."

"It is not the right time to introduce new legislation, especially as
sexual orientation and belief duties are still bedding down and we haven’t even
seen age legislation yet," he said.

The Department of Trade and Industry said that it was working towards
"developing greater coherence within the legislative framework", but
ruled out a complete legislative overhaul.

By Michael Millar

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