Could it be all change for the law on equal pay and sex, race, age, disability, sexual orientation and religious discrimination?
The Government has recently consulted on its proposals to introduce a Single Equality Bill which would unite these laws under one Act. The Government sought views on its consultation paper (‘A Framework for Fairness’) from organisations and individuals as to how best to introduce the new legislation. Under its manifesto, the Government has pledged to introduce the Bill during the current Parliament.
The Government’s aim is to simplify, modernise and improve discrimination law. At present, law seeking to prevent discrimination is contained within no less than nine different pieces of major legislation. The Government hopes that by simplifying the law it will help to prevent discrimination, as the public will better understand their rights and responsibilities.
In broad terms the Government aims to:
- simplify and standardise definitions and tests in discrimination law;
- simplify and harmonise exceptions;
- simplify and harmonise the way the law treats public functions and public services; and
- bring the law of equal pay into the Single Equality Bill and update it in line with case law.
Responses to the consultation paper have been mixed. Some bodies, such as the CBI (Confederation of Business Industry) and the Commission for Equality and Human Rights, have commended the proposals for trying to simplify the law on discrimination. Others, however, have stressed that the ideas do not go far enough. The Equal Opportunities Commission and the Disability Rights Commission (“DRC”) have not been alone in stating that the Government’s paper does not address a number of current problems, such as the inequality in pay between men and women.
Overall, this is a mainly housekeeping exercise, rather than a radical chang to discrimination law as we know it. However, if the differences between the different tests and exceptions set out in the current individual acts are ironed out successfully, whilst still protecting employees and employers, that can only be a good thing!
The consultation closed in September 2007. More information can be obtained from the Communities and Local Government’s web site at: http://www.communities.gov.uk/index.asp?id=1511248
We will, of course, keep you up-to-date as to if, and when, the Single Equality Bill becomes a reality.