Young, gifted and black? Join the Equality and Human Rights Commission and be conned over your pay

Baroness Onora O'Neill: the chair of the ECHR Pic credit: Flickr

Baroness Onora O’Neill: the chair of the ECHR
Pic credit: Flickr

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is supposed to be the champion of the rights of ethnic minorities, the disabled and women against discrimination. It should be in favour of equal pay.

As a previous blog revealed its reputation is rather shaky when it comes to defending equality between men and women in the Middle East. Baroness Onora O’Neill, its part time chair, talks the big talk in the UK when  it comes defending women’s equal rights to men only to believe in her other position as a trustee of the  American University of Sharjah that women are second class citizens compared to men who are not allowed to meet privately with them as equals. I wonder whether she is allowed to be alone with a man when she is in Sharjah.

Now it turns out that her officials are quite happy to massage figures claiming the EHRC is making great progress in narrowing the pay gap between ethnic minorities and white people, the disabled  and the able-bodied and between women and men.

During recent pay negotiations with the PCS union the management  claimed that its new pay deal would reduce the gender, ethnic minority and disability pay gaps.  It turns out that the figures over ethnic minorities were false. Instead of narrowing the gap  from 15.5 per cent to 14.5 per cent it actually widened it to nearly 17 per cent. You can read the full story in Tribune magazine this week.

While there is a marginal improvement – narrowing the gap by 0.2 per cent for the disabled to 7.7 per cent – this figure is actually almost one per cent worse than in 2011.

You might wonder what the EHRC would do if they caught a private firm fiddling the figures and opening themselves to prosecution . Any clever barrister defending that firm would just have to say – well you lie about it yourself in the ECHR.

I did put this to the EHRC Ignoring their main point of my question the press office released this statement from the Commission:

“We negotiated with the Trade Unions (including PCS), to agree how to distribute the 1 per cent pay rise we are limited to by government. We agreed and implemented their proposal to pay more to those on lower pay grades and less to those on higher grades and made a slight adjustment to this.  Our adjustment was slightly more favourable towards BME staff than the Trade Unions’ initial proposals.”

Oh so the union clever enough to expose your flawed figures would be better giving up- because you can give  the staff a better deal just out of the generosity of your own heart. Really?

But the key point is if we can’t trust the body that fights for equal pay to be honest about what it is doing to narrow pay gaps, who can we trust?

The two faces of equality chair Baroness Onora O’Neill on sex segregation: One for UK, one for UAE

Baroness Onora O'Neill: Pic credit: Flickr

Baroness Onora O’Neill:
Pic credit: Flickr

This month the Equality and Human Rights Commission weighed into the controversy over the treatment of women by radical Muslims.

It issued strict guidelines forbidding the segregation of men and women at universities, colleges and student unions except for acts of religious worship following controversial suggestions that this had been happening in the UK  at university meetings. As to be expected the ECHR was on the side of  the equal treatment of women at all times.

Not highlighted was the position of Baroness Onora O’Neill, the three day a week chairman of the ECHR appointed by former culture secretary, Maria Miller, to replace Trevor Phillips. It is highlighted in an article by me in Tribune magazine this week.

Baroness O’Neill,a 71 year old philosophy don, whose academic  career is mainly based in an all women’s college in New York and as a former principal of Newnham College, Cambridge, was of course thoroughly in favour of that move in the UK.

What is not so widely known is that the Baroness is also a trustee of a university in the Middle East in Sharjah,in the United Arab Emirates. Indeed the ECHR website omits the appointment – along the lines that she has so many  that it was not worth mentioning.

But in this context it is more than a little relevant. Sharjah, the most conservative of the Emirates, has strict laws about the role of women in society. Its 2001 decency laws have very strict views about the relations between men and women.

It says: “A man and a woman who are not in a legally acceptable relationship should not be alone in public places, or in suspicious times or circumstances.”

Now Baroness O’Neill is a trustee of the American University of Sharjah which as she points out educates men and women and  does not have the same segregation as the next door University of Sharjah which has separate men and women’s campuses.

However a reading of the American University’s Code of Conduct makes it crystal clear how students have to behave. It is subject to Sharjah’s law, which includes a strict ban on alcohol and no unsupervised visits to the student halls of residents where 2000 students stay.

There is a  night curfew in operation – all students have to be in their rooms by midnight ( I.0 am is allowed at weekends) and even male and female friends are banned form being alone together in the halls of residence.

I quote from the rules::

• Visitors are allowed for limited hours and are only allowed to meet the residing students in the TV lounge and the computer labs; exceptions to this rule are mentioned below
• Mothers and sisters can visit the AUS women’s dormitories only and for a limited time.
This is subject to the approval of the dorm supervisor. Other family members can meet
the women students in the Women Welcome Center building
• Fathers and brothers can only visit the AUS men’s dormitories for limited time and this is
subject to the approval of dorm supervisor.”
The rules on dress are also restricted:

I quote: “Inappropriate dress for both males and females is prohibited. This includes, but is not limited to, tank tops, clothing that is very tight or transparent and indecently exposes the waist or back or shoulders or cleavage, and short clothing above the knee or very short pants. Moreover, clothing must not display obscene or offensive pictures and slogans.”

I can’t imagine any of this being imposed on British university students. I was interested to find out how the noble Baroness squared her two roles in  two different cultures. Did she secretly disagree with Sharjah’s strict ban on alcohol  and strict control of the sexes? Or would she like to impose similar restrictions on British students( she might be a teetotaller!) and not believe in sex before marriage.?

But she was being very silent. All she would say that the university was co-educational  and she was not paid to be a trustee by the Arabs.. But it was not her financial gains that really interested me, it was her hypocrisy of  legislating for rules in one country ( the UK) while backing a regime in the Middle East that did the very opposite.