The new legislation came into force this week and has been greeted with scepticism and misgivings. It is the latest in a long line of legal additions that have have been written to reduce discrimination in the workplace and beyond. What a catalogue of potential – each arrived with a fanfare and each heralded changes to social policy and practice, but have they stopped discrimination – I think not! What will it take to make real change?
Let’s take a look at what is on our statue books:-
Equal Pay Act 1970 (Amended) gives an individual a right to the same contractual pay and benefits as a person of the opposite sex in the same employment, where the man and the woman are doing: like work; work rated as equivalent under an analytical job evaluation study; or work that is proved to be of equal value.
Sex Discrimination Act 1975 makes it unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of sex. Sex discrimination is unlawful in employment, education, advertising or when providing housing, goods, services or facilities. It is unlawful to discriminate because someone is married, in employment or advertisements for jobs.
Race Relations Act 1976 prohibits discrimination on racial grounds in the areas of employment, education, and the provision of goods, facilities, services and premises.
Disability Discrimination Act 1995 outlaws the discrimination of disabled people in employment, the provision of goods, facilities and services or the administration or management of premises.
The Sex Discrimination (Gender Reassignment) Regulations 1999 seeks to prevent sex discrimination relating to gender reassignment. It clarified the law for transsexual people in relation to equal pay and treatment in employment and training.
Race Relations Amendment Act 2000 places a statutory duty on all public bodies to promote equal opportunity, eliminate racial discrimination and promote good relations between different racial groups.
Race Relations Act 1976 (Amendment) Regulation 2003 introduced new definitions of indirect discrimination and harassment, new burden of proof requirements, continuing protection after employment ceases, new exemption for a determinate job requirement and the removal of certain other exemptions.
Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulation 2003 protects against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in employment, vocational training, promotion, and working conditions.
Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulation 2003 protects against discrimination on the grounds of religion and belief in employment, vocational training, promotion and working conditions.
Civil Partnerships Act 2004 provides legal recognition and parity of treatment for same-sex couples and married couples, including employment benefits and pension rights.
Gender Recognition Act 2004 provides transsexual people with legal recognition in their acquired gender. Legal recognition follows from the issue of a full gender recognition certificate by a gender recognition panel.
Disability Discrimination Amendment Act 2005 introduces a positive duty on public bodies to promote equality for disabled people.
The Employment Equality (Sex Discrimination) Regulations 2005 introduces new definitions of indirect discrimination and harassment, explicitly prohibits discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy or maternity leave, sets out the extent to which it is discriminatory to pay a woman less than she would otherwise have been paid due to pregnancy or maternity issues.
Employment Equality (Age) Regulation 2006 protects against discrimination on grounds of age in employment and vocational training. It further prohibits direct and indirect discrimination, victimisation, harassment and instructions to discriminate.
Equality Act 2006 establishes a single Commission for Equality and Human Rights by 2007 that replaces the three existing commissions. Introduces a positive duty on public sector bodies to promote equality of opportunity between women and men and eliminate sex discrimination. It also protects access discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief in terms of access to good facilities and services.
Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 seeks to stop people from intentionally using threatening words or behaviour to stir up hatred against somebody because of what they believe.
This is a long list dating back to 1970 – forty years of legislation. Not quite a catalogue of disaster, but what has been the impact? Sure, there have been amazing improvements to working practice in the UK, but on the street people are still discriminated against and people are bullied in the workplace. Difference is not really respected or valued; it is looked on with suspicion. People still feel that they need to fit in, be the same and conform. Surely it time to celebrate difference, welcome and encourage people who present different views, thoughts and cultures to our own.
The Equality Edge project “Working with Difference” takes people on a personal exploration into the world of difference, starting from the point of one’s own individuality to reach a point of tolerance and understanding of the differences in others. This is the work that makes real change – not the attempts made by law makers stating the illegality of discrimination. Yes to compliance, but a bigger YES to the moral and social imperative to tolerate, accept and value difference.