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Firms ambivalent on effects of equal opportunities legislation

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According to a survey published this month nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK feel that Equal Opportunities legislation has no impact of their business. The research, which was carried out by Template Surveys on behalf of business consultancy SGS Consulting, found that identical proportions of SMEs (19 per cent) feel that Equal Opportunities legislation is beneficial as think it is unfavourable. The survey relates to data collected from responses to an online questionnaire posted on the Internet and circulated in January 2002 by email to 5000 Managing Directors of UK firms which employ less than 500 staff.

So across workplaces there is a general ambivalence towards laws designed to create equality in employment. The main legal reference points on Equal Opportunities are the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act which makes it illegal for employers to discriminate on the grounds of gender, the 1970 Equal Pay Act which ensures that pay rates are the same for identical or similar jobs and the 1976 Race Relations Act which outlaws discrimination on the grounds of colour, race, nationality and ethnic origin. However, further European legislation is also relevant.

“These results are disappointing,” said a spokesperson from the Equal Opportunities Commission, “Small businesses, perhaps even more than other employers, need to be able to recruit the best staff and can’t afford to then lose them. If firms treat all workers fairly and ensure that they comply with equal opportunities legislation companies have the opportunity to build staff loyalty and morale and so make their business more effective.”

In March 2001 the government announced plans to appoint “fair pay champions” in an effort to combat the growing wage gap between men and women.

Do you find equal opportunities legislation helpful, or difficult to administer… or both? Add your comments below.

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