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Harman defends positive discrimination plans

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Equalities minister Harriet Harman has defended plans to encourage organisations to discriminate in favour of female and ethnic minorities job candidates.

In plans to be published today, it is reported that the Equality Bill will also make private companies demonstrate whether they pay male and female staff equally, in a bid to make the pay gap between men and women more transparent.

The bill will also seek to ban all age discrimination, by tackling more widespread forms of age-related prejudice, such as through the provision of goods and services.

The minister told GMTV: “Most women are going out to work and they are just as committed to their jobs – the money that they earn is important to the household budget so they should be paid fairly.

“Yet listen to this figure – if you are a woman working part-time you get 40% less per hour on average than a man working full-time. Now either this is because women are not up to the job or else there is discrimination against them. You can’t challenge discrimination when it’s kept swept under the carpet.”

CIPD diversity adviser Dianah Worman said that the CIPD welcomes plans that require employers to report average earnings and is a step in the right direction to resolving unequal pay.

“However employers should be aware that this broad brush approach won’t guarantee the absence of individual unfair cases, even if there is no difference in the reported averages,” she added. “Employers will need to rigorously examine how they address unequal pay in their organisations, and ensure they clearly communicate how reward systems structures are managed.

“Business should be grateful that government has opted for a light-touch approach to pay equality and not introduced compulsory pay audits. But they should recognise that if appropriate action is not taken to address the equal pay issue, then more legislation may follow.”

Recipe for disaster

However, Mark Littlewood, communications director of think tank Progressive Vision, said that the plans for positive discrimination are a “recipe for disaster” and would lead to job recruitment being based on political correctness rather than merit.

“To allow gender or race to act as a tie-breaker in a close contest is offensive and immoral. Many recruitment processes can be close – but dead heats are rare. Rational employers should seek a further round of interviews or take up additional references,” he said.

“These proposals will lead to resentment, arbitrary decision-taking and risk, making discrimination in Britain worse not better.”

Law firm Pinsent Masons has warned that the proposed equality plans are unlikely to have a dramatic effect on the number of minority staff employed.

Employment partner at the firm Ashley Norman said: “Unless there are very clear guidelines as to how a business could positively discriminate in certain circumstances, businesses will probably continue as normal. It would be very difficult to say that two candidates are exactly matched in every way apart from the colour of their skin or their sex and the legislation could potentially lead to claims from those non-minority job seekers who feel they have been passed over for a position.”

One Response

  1. Harperson – minister promoting inequality for white men.
    Perhaps our (in)equalities minister could explain why these proposals are being aimed at women and ethnic minorities rather than for all groups of workers where there is significant under representation on the basis of gender / race / disability / age etc. Don’t white people or men and in particular white men matter at all in her eyes?

    Local Government is a major offender, around 80% of their staff are women, so why isn’t Harperson (to use the pc version of her name) taking action to force them to employ a more gender balanced work force? It seeems that this Labour Government thinks that equality is only for women / ethic minorities and definitely not for white men, is it any wonder that Labour came below the BNP in the last by election.

    Harriet points out that part time women earn 40% less than full time men and claims that this must be because women aren’t up to the job or (as that couldn’t be the case) that they are facing discrimination but ignores other explanations. For example many part time jobs are in low paid work like cleaning and this pushes down the average wage for both female and male part time staff. Of course she isn’t concerned with the problems that men who work part time may face, she can’t even be bothered to say how they compare with men who work full time but everything points to the inconvenient truth that they also earn far less than their full time counterparts. The part time pay gap mainly affects women as they make up 90% of the part time work force but the 10% who are men face the same problems and the issue is more to do with the high percentage of low paid occupations offering part time work than with the gender pay gap.

    Equality should be for everyone not just selected groups. This way those who face the most disadvantage, women / ethnic minorities / disabled people / older workers etc get the same benefit but everyone is protected by the legislation.

    The public sector (NHS, Local Government, Civil Service etc) is by far the largest employer in the UK and men are significantly under represented in all of them. It is a mark of the institutional discrimination against men (and white men in particular) in our “ministry of women and equality” that nothing is being done about it.

    When we have a minister who promotes equality for all and not just for women and ethnic minorities perhaps we will start to see more male teachers (around one in five), class room assistants (less than one in ten), social workers, nurses etc etc.

    The way these plans are being presented is a disgrace, equality should be for everyone but it seems that for Labour this means everyone but white men.

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