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EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES COMMISSION URGES NEW LAW FOR NEW CENTURY

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The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) has submitted its ...
The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) has submitted its

recommendations for a new sex equality law to the government.

Equality in the 21st Century: A New Sex Equality Law for Britain

recommends a radical overhaul of the Sex Discrimination and Equal Pay

Acts to create a new foundation for sex equality in the next century.

Kamlesh Bahl, chairwoman of the EOC said, 'Our proposals are bold,

but balanced. Our comprehensive consultation confirmed the need for a

new law to meet the demands of modern Britain. The current laws are

out-of-date and they prevent progress on equal pay and other crucial

sex equality issues.'

The EOC is recommending that a single statute replace the Sex

Discrimination and Equal Pay Acts. The aim is to improve access to

justice and provide clarity in the law by establishing sex equality

as a basic human right. The EOC launched its consultation document in

January 1998 and received submissions from varied sources across

Britain. Kamlesh Bahl added, 'Hundreds of organisations and

individuals responded to the draft proposals and provided valuable

input. We listened to what they said to produce pragmatic and

achievable recommendations.'

The EOC has a statutory duty under the Sex Discrimination Act to

review the effectiveness of the legislation and suggest improvements.

Equality in the 21st Ceutury: A New Sex Equality Law for Britain is

addressed to secretary of state David Blunkett and calls on the

government for prompt action. 'This government has made a strong

commitment to tackle discrimination,' Kamlesh Bahl said. 'The time

for change is now. We call on the government to make our vision a

reality and end the sex discrimination which still exists.'

Equality in the 21st Century: A New Sex Equality Law for Britain is

the first EOC publication to be awarded the Clear English Standard by

the Plain Language Commission.

A summary of the proposals is attached. Background papers

detailing the EOC's recommendations are available on: the single

statute; maternity provisions; public bodies; equal pay; insurance;

sport; statutory monitoring; sexual orientation; and clubs.

Key Proposals

1. A SINGLE STATUTE

- The Sex Discrimination Act (SDA), Equal Pay Act (EPA) and other

relevant laws should be replaced by a single Sex Equality Act.

- The new statute should impose equality obligations on the full

range of government activities.

- The new statute should be based on the Principle of Equal

Treatment which guarantees freedom from discrimination on grounds of

sex, pregnancy, marital status, family status and gender

reassignment.

- There should be legal protection against discrimination for

lesbians and gay men. The government should study the issue, consult

people who would be affected and decide the best way to protect

lesbians and gay men from discrimination.

2. TYPES OF DISCRIMINATION

Direct and indirect discrimination

- The new statute should ensure the 'burden of proof' in

discrimination cases meets the requirements of the EC Council

Directive on the Burden of Proof.

- The new statute should define 'direct' and 'indirect'

discrimination.

Victimisation

- Protection should be extended to ex-employees as well as current

employees.

Sexual harassment

- The new statute should clearly prohibit sexual harassement in

employment, education and training and the promotion of goods,

facilities or services. It should use the European Commission's

definition of sexual harassment.

3. RIGHTS IN EMPLOYMENT

Maternity and paternity rights

- The law should provide maternity leave for 18 weeks.

- A contract of employment should continue throughout statutory

maternity leave.

- 10 days of statutory paternity leave should be introduced, paid

at the current rate of Statutory Maternity Pay.

Equal pay

- Employers (with the exception of private households) should be

required to monitor their workforce in terms of the gender, job-title

or grade, and rates of pay of their employees on at least an annual

basis.

- Employers should be required to give information obtained via

monitoring to employees, employees' representatives and the Equal

Opportunities Commission (EOC) as requested.

- The Secretary of State should be required to ensure that all

Departments of State, when collecting and publishing statistics,

should break them down (disaggregate) by sex.

Contract compliance

- Any contractor seeking a contract or financial aid from central or

local government or from any publicly funded organisatiom should be

required to show that they monitor their workforce in terms of the

gender, job-title or grade, and rates of pay of their employees on at

least an annual basis, and that they give the information obtained

via monitoring to their employees, employees' representatives and the

EOC, as requested.

Collective agreements and collective remedies

- Employment tribunals should have the power to make general findings

and general recommendations.

Tribunal procedures and independent experts

- Group or representative action should be allowed.

4. STATUTORY MONITORING

- Employers (with the exception of private households) should be

required by law to monitor their workforce in terms of the gender,

job-title or grade, and rates of pay of their employees on at least

an annual basis.

5. THE PUBLIC DOMAIN

State activities

- Public bodies should be required to work towards eliminating

unlawful discrimination and to promote equality of opportunity.

6. EXCEPTIONS AND OTHER MATTERS

Private clubs

- The new statute should cover all private members' clubs which

have admitted both sexes to a membership category and where some club

facilities and services have been available to both men and women

during the previous two years.

Insurance

- The insurance exception in the current law should be repealed.

Sport

- The exception in section 44 of the SDA should no longer permit

exclusions of young people of school age from competing in any

sport, game or other competitive activity.

Armed Forces

- The exception based on 'combat effectiveness' should be repealed.

- The exception in respect of cadet training corps, section 85(5) of

the SDA, should be repealed.

7. ENFORCEMENT PROCESS

Tribunals and courts

- Complaints of discrimination in education and consumer affairs

should be transferred to the employment tribunals.

Tribunals to make general finding

- The employment tribunal should be empowered to make general

findings of discrimination where appropriate.

EOC power to bring legal proceedings

- The EOC should be given a general power to bring legal proceedings

in its own name where we believe a discriminatory act has taken place

or a discriminatory practice exists.

8. REMEDIES

Range of remedies

- In sex discrimination cases the tribunal should be able to order

reinstatement, re-engagement, appointment, or promotion as

appropriate.

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