The long-awaited Equality Bill was published this week. If enacted the Bill will replace all the existing discrimination legislation with one Act. Whilst the Bill will no doubt be amended considerably as it makes its way through Parliament, in summary of its key provisions, it will:

  • harmonise all discrimination laws

The Bill will replace the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Race Relations Act 1976, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, much of the Equality Act 2006 and the Employment Equality Regulations on religion or belief, sexual orientation and age plus other ancillary pieces of legislation. It will harmonise existing provisions to give a single approach where appropriate and most of the existing legislation will be repealed in its entirety. The Bill formalises the concept of discrimination by reference to "protected characteristics", these being age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy, maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. Inevitably, the Government's aim to harmonise existing laws results in some changes to them.

  • strengthen the law to support progress on equality

Amongst other developments, the Bill also renders unenforceable "secrecy clauses" in employment contracts which seek to prevent employees discussing their pay with colleagues with a view to finding out if there are any differences that are related to a protected characteristic and empowers the government to require private sector employers with at least 250 employees to publish information about the differences in pay between their male and female employees.

The Bill also allows positive discrimination during recruitment in favour of those disadvantaged by reason of a protected characteristic when faced with candidates who are otherwise equally qualified.

In addition, the Bill places a new duty on certain public authorities to consider socio-economic disadvantage when taking strategic decisions about how to exercise their functions and builds on the existing equality duties for public bodies to create a single equality duty.

The Government states that the new laws are expected to come into force in the autumn of 2010.