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The Watercooler Test Of New Legislation

Fergal Dowling's Column For The Birmingham Post


Sometimes I overhear people on the train or at companies’ water-coolers question how relevant to or in-touch with real life the legal system is. These discussions may centre on rulings which they feel are baffling, the application of legislation which they feel is outdated or new legislation which they regard as unnecessary red tape. 

During the course of April, The Equality Bill received Royal Assent and became The Equality Act 2010.  The Act simplifies and brings together over one hundred pieces of legislation, including:

  • The Equal Pay Act 1970
  • The Sex Discrimination Act 1975
  • The Race Relations Act 1976
  • The Disability Discrimination Act 1995
  • The Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003
  • The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003
  • The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006
  • The Equality Act 2006
  • The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007

The overarching objective of the Act is a fair environment, where individuals have the opportunity to achieve success, irrespective of gender, race, nationality, disability, age, sexual orientation, religion or belief.
Those chatting on the train or bus or standing around the office water-cooler pondering the relevance of legislation only need to consider The Equality Act 2010 in the light of two news items from April.
Early in the month, the Treasury Committee published a report on women in the City, which found that women are a minority at director level and there is a significant pay gap which appears to be from entry level up. 

Meanwhile, in the last week of April, hundreds of women workers won their tribunal equal pay claim against a local council on the grounds that they were excluded from bonus payments as they applied to functions predominantly performed by men, albeit they were on the same grade as the women. 

The Equality Act, which will come into force over four stages, beginning with the main provisions in October, addresses these issues in addition to numerous others.  Under the Act, positive action measures will be extended to encourage and facilitate employers in making their companies or organisations more representative and reflective of the people they serve, so the ratio of male to female employees should become 1:1. 

And in 2013, if required, gender pay transparency regulations will come into force to avoid the pitfall of female members of staff receiving a lower amount than their male counterparts. 

The legal framework is in place to support the eradication of discrimination.  What I want to hear when next at a company’s water-cooler is enthusiasm for embracing diversity and reaping the opportunities and rewards it offers.