The changing face of race relations.

The UK
currently has some of the most stringent anti-discrimination legislation in
Europe. Despite this, UK employers are being asked to implement a series of
race relations regulations by the end of 2003. This includes two EC directives
on race and equal treatment and the initial stages of the Race Relations
(Amendment) Act 2000.  To gauge the
impact on HR functions across the country, Personnel Today asked Gurbux Singh,
chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, to outline how he believes the
legislation will change the nature of race relations in the workplace.  By Phil Boucher

How
successful has the implementation of the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000
been?

We
have received more than 900 responses to the consultation on the code of
practice and guidance for public authorities and are delighted with the volume
of response. Public bodies need to ensure they have their race equality schemes
in place before 31 May 2002. The CRE has been working hard producing training
packs, hosting conferences and doing everything we can to make it as easy as
possible for employers to meet the new duties.

What
will be the major impact of the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 on public
sector employers?

They
will know their customers better and it will ensure that all sections of the
community receive equal access to services.

All
functions and policies may be subject to change under the general duty.
However, in practice functions that have the greatest impact on the general
public and which impact differently on racial groups are likely to be given
highest priority. In time all the functions of a public authority should
reflect the positive duty to promote racial equality.

If
public-sector employers are not doing it already, it will mean determining what
those who use services or come into contact with public authorities in other
ways think about them. It will also mean determining whether the service or
other function treats some ethnic groups better than others, which will require
ethnic monitoring.

Depending
on the findings, it could be that changes are made to the way functions and
services are provided. Racial equality will have to be taken into account
during a decision-making process, especially in planning functions, and this is
likely to require training for staff. In some cases it will involve
consultation.

The
public authority will also have an obligation to demonstrate what it is doing
to improve the way the organisation works so that people are treated equally
regardless of their racial group.

Is
it likely that the regulations will be extended to the private sector?

The
private sector argued successfully that it could stamp out discrimination
without regulation and the onus is on it to prove this. The CRE and other
organisations can help, but to improve without regulation will require strong
leadership.

How
should employers gear themselves up for the implementation of the EC Race
Directive in July 2003?

We
would advise employers to keep an eye on the Government’s proposals for
implementation. The CRE has responded to the consultation in some detail and
has raised some concerns. For instance the definition of race in the new
directives is different from the definition that currently exists in UK legislation.
The UK definition includes colour, nationality and national origin where as the
Race Directive does not. This could lead to a twin-track approach that could
make things more complicated for employers and clearly needs to be addressed.

What
impact is the directive likely to have?

The
Race Directive will probably have a lesser impact in the UK than in other
European countries because comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation is
already in place. However, there will clearly be implications for companies
which have offices in other European cities. Good employers shouldn’t have much
to worry about so long as they are operating well and within UK law.

How
should employers gear themselves up for the implementation of the EC Equal
Treatment Directive in December 2003?

This
depends upon the likely impact of the directive. As it stands it could make
little difference to existing legislation. We will need to wait and see the
entirety of the Government’s proposals before speculating any further.

For
further information on the EC Directives and advice on implementation of the
Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 contact the Commission for Racial Equality
on 0207 828 7022 or go to www.cre.gov.uk

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