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New drive against sex discrimination at work

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The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) has launched a new campaign, ‘Carry On Equality’ campaign, based on the ‘Carry On’ films, to tell people about sex discrimination law and the information and advice available from the EOC.

Julie Mellor, EOC chair, said: “If you’re being sexually harassed at work, or paid less than a man doing the same job as you, there’s no need to carry on regardless – there are places you can go for confidential advice. We’ve made some progress since 1961 – the year the film ‘Carry On Regardless’ was made. Back then women earned on average less than 60p for every £1 a man earned in a year, and sexual harassment wasn’t even recognised as an issue. But sex discrimination hasn’t gone away – women are still only earning 71p for a man’s £1, and sexual harassment in the workplace remains a real problem. The aim of the ‘Carry On Equality’ campaign is to reach people who might not otherwise know what their rights are. We want to give them the information and the confidence they need to sort things out with their employer.”

[ HRZone wonders whether it’s wise even to remind people of the “Carry On” films when promoting best practice on gender issues… it’s perhaps not what the films themselves are remembered for! ]

The campaign will also highlight the costs of tribunal cases to employers and raise awareness of the free practical advice available to them and their advisers – advice that can help prevent sex discrimination complaints reaching tribunals.

Ms Mellor added: “Employers cannot afford to carry on regardless either. They need access to quality information on their legal responsibilities so that they can put in place policies that prevent discrimination, or if complaints do arise, sit down with their employees to find a workable solution to the problem. When employers fail to tackle the problem, they run the real risk of costly tribunal claims, not to mention the hidden cost of sex discrimination – losing staff who are not happy at work. As the Better Regulation Taskforce recently pointed out, the majority of businesses do not go out of their way to flout the law but simply do not know what it is they are supposed to do.”

Last year there were more than 24,000 applications to employment tribunals relating to sex discrimination or equal pay. The average award in sex discrimination and equal pay cases was £19,279. According to research carried out by the DTI, only one-fifth of small employers feel confident or very confident about their knowledge of individual employment rights. This campaign aims to help bridge this information gap and reduce the numbers of cases ending up at tribunal.

DTI research has also revealed that 41% of people who had experienced employment problems did not seek any help or advice and that people on lower incomes and from ethnic minorities are less likely to have access to the information they need on their legal rights.

Britain has one of the worst pay gaps between men and women in Europe. Women earn on average 82% of men’s hourly earnings, and 71% of men’s annual earnings (New Earnings Survey, 2001). A recently published study from the Industrial Relations Service (IRS) found that harassment and bullying are the top cause of employee complaints. An Industrial Society report (1996) found that 54% of organisations had received a complaint of harassment in the last year.

The first part of the campaign focuses on equal pay and sexual harassment. The next phase of the campaign will focus on issues relating to flexible working and will be launched in Spring 2003.

The EOC’s Helpline number is 0845 601 5901. There is also an England-wide telephone advice service for employers and managers on equality issues in the workplace, called Equality Direct. Employers can contact an Equality Direct adviser on tel/textphone 0845 600 3444 or use its website: www.equalitydirect.org.uk.

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