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Charlie Duff

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Positive discrimination gets thumbs down


A survey of 545 senior UK business figures has revealed overwhelming opposition to legislative intervention to encourage under-represented minorities in UK companies.

More than four fifths (81%) of respondents to DLA Piper’s General Election Survey 2010, interviewed online by YouGovStone, said that they opposed ‘positive action’ to give priority to candidates for employment or promotion from under-represented minorities, as a power contained in the Equality Bill, which will become law later this year. Only 13% of respondents were in favour of such action.

There was also a high level of opposition to any change in the law in the next Parliament that would allow companies to introduce quotas for female managers if they wished, with 77% of the sample saying that they would not support such measures. There was even more opposition to any new legislation with the express purpose of increasing the number of women on the boards of UK companies, with 86% of respondents coming out against any new laws, and only one in ten (10%) in favour. Anonymous comments submitted on the survey reveal the strength of feeling that any personnel decisions should be based purely on merit; for example, "Companies must be able to choose the best people available for all jobs", and, "Implementation of quotas…will inevitably lead to the hiring of less able people" were indicative of the overall responses.

On the subject of the compulsory retirement age in the UK, nearly one in three (30%) of those questioned were in favour of the next Government scrapping it entirely. Half (51%) felt that the age should be kept as it is, while 13% wanted to see it increased and 5% supported a reduction. With Britain’s ageing population and the growing burden of financing old age pensions, there is clearly a recognition that people will need to work for longer to fund their retirement, and that older employees, who still have much to offer their organisations, should have a greater degree of choice in their retirement age.

Elsewhere, the question of whether people approaching retirement age should be forced to take out insurance to pay for future care divided the survey group, with 46% opposed to the idea, and 48% in favour of it, either universally (19%) or subject to a means test (29%).

Jonathan Exten-Wright, employment partner at DLA Piper London, said: "The high level of opposition to any legislative change by the Government in recruitment and promotion appears to reflect a broader distaste for any further legal burden on UK companies, and the importance placed on individuals being rewarded on merit and no other factors. Clearly, everybody would like to see UK companies operate in a meritocratic manner, and the system is currently far from perfect – however, the clear message from this research is that direct legislative intervention would face significant opposition from some in the business community. The survey’s respondents do not disagree with the objective of greater representation, but many object to the proposed methods which seek to ensure it in a way which they perceive as unfair. Any incoming Government will be faced with the dilemma of campaigners arguing best practice has not gone far enough and business resisting what it sees as unworkable red tape."

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Charlie Duff


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