MPs slam complacent equality watchdog and the government over “rife ” ageist discrimination

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The Equality Act: Government complacency is allowing rife discrimination in the workplace against the over 50s Pic credit: Parliament UK

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A damning report from the  Commons women and equalities committee has attacked the country’s equality watchdog and ministers for their complacent attitude in tackling age discrimination in the workplace and elsewhere.

The report released by the all party committee of MPs warns that the talents of up to one million women over the age of 50 are being wasted by outdated employment policies. Its strongly worded condemnation of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and ministers responsible for equality follows what can only be described as a pretty lack lustre response from both.

Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Maria Miller MP, said:

“Without effective intervention from the Government and EHRC, we cannot see how discriminatory practices against older people in employment, that we know are rife, will be tackled. That’s why I find the responses we have received today disappointing as we had hoped they would have worked together to agree specific enforcement actions across both the public and private sectors.

Our Committee will be taking follow up action to make sure we get the change that is desperately needed.”

The response from MPs highlights what they see as a failure to implement the  2010 Equality Act. They are particularly scathing of the failure by the EHRC which has powers – which appear to be rarely used – to use enforcement procedures  against employers who have ageist recruitment policies.

The lack of the use of its powers is worrying given that campaigners for 50s women who are waiting up to six years to get a pension also want the EHRC to use its powers to remedy what they see as discrimination against this group. This group who are being forced to look for work until they are 65 – are facing a double bind of  finding employers don’t want them while the state won’t give them a pension.

They have even had the facetious suggestion from Guy Opperman, the pensions minister, that they take jobs as apprenticeships at £3.60 an hour while they wait until they get a  pension.

The EHRC today said it would take action – even though this seems to be confined to fine words rather than deeds.

A spokeswoman  said: ““Everyone has the right to work and the right to a working environment that allows them to achieve their full potential. We have taken and will continue to take robust enforcement action, using all of our statutory powers, to tackle unlawful discrimination and ensure that no one is excluded from the workplace. This includes enabling Britain’s employers to benefit from the talent and contributions of workers of all ages.

“The right to request flexible working should apply from day one in all jobs and we have stressed the need for employers to make their workplaces accessible for everyone, including older people, parents and carers. We have also sought to tackle bias in recruitment by taking action against discriminatory adverts that request characteristics or terms that are associated with a particular age group.”
MPs are particularly angry that the government will not enact section 14 of the Equality Act – which would allow people to bring multiple ground cases against employers who discriminate against them. Thus an older woman could not bring a case on both age and sex – she has to choose one or the other.

Both former women’s minister Harriet Harman and the Fawcett Society have condemned ministers for not doing this. The government says it won’t do it because it increases burdens on business and promises more research in its response. One has to ask as this legislation was passed by Parliament – there must have been some research already behind it – so this is a pretty lame excuse.

The government uses the same excuse of putting too much a burden on employers to make it mandatory for firms employing over 250 people to publish an age breakdown of staff. Yet Whitehall already does it.

Altogether this is a pretty pathetic response from both the government and the watchdog to a serious issue. But I am very glad that the committee is also very dissatisfied and intends to pursue both organisations to come up with something better. You can get the full report here.

Revealed: The man who sacked a woman on maternity leave is now head campaigner for women’s equality in Scotland

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John Wilkes, now chief executive of the Scottish Equality and Human Rights Commission Pic credit:Third Force News

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Meet John  Wilkes. He is now chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Scotland. The ECHR’s top campaign at the moment is fighting against  the discrimination  of women who take maternity leave from their jobs.

As the ECHR’s own research says on its latest campaigns website says:

  • Around one in nine mothers (11%) reported that they were either dismissed; made compulsorily redundant, where others in their workplace were not; or treated so poorly they felt they had to leave their job; if scaled up to the general population this could mean as many as 54,000 mothers a year.”

Great words. But they didn’t seem to reach John Wilkes before he took up his highly paid post at the ECHR in Glasgow.

Then he held the job of chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council, a respected body. Now after the findings of a tribunal hearing in Glasgow ot appears to do more for refugees than its own employees.

And one of those was Petra Kasparek,who was employed as a refugee integration adviser, who became pregnant and took maternity leave. When she decided to come back to work she faced a gruelling interview which included responding to some questions she would have been unable to answer properly, and then declared redundant.

The man who stood in for her Stephen McGuire was also sacked.

But a ruling on 6 July by a Glasgow employment tribunal has ruled that both were unfairly dismissed and that Ms Kasparek suffered indirect sexual discrimination under the Equality Act.  Both are to get compensation amounting to thousands of pounds and the tribunal ordered Mr McGuire to be reinstated. The case was championed by their union, Unite, which even proposed ways to solve the dispute without sacking either of them.

But the most severe criticism comes in the tribunal’s view of John Wilkes whose knowledge of the law and procedures as a chief executive seems remarkably lacking for such an experienced official whose Linked In profile portrays him as a top notch executive.

The tribunal said that Mr Wilkes had “a surprisingly poor understanding of the SRC’s ( Scottish Refugee Council’s) policies and procedures.”He  had “a poor grasp of how some of the SRC’s actions were at variance with its formal policies.”

He  and the head of finance there also had”  a striking lack of insight and appreciation of the criticisms levelled at their decisions.”

One of the points raised at the hearing from Mr Wilkes was that Ms Kasparek had not tried hard enough after leaving to get a similarly better paid job so she wasn’t entitled to compensation. In my view the man shows surprisingly little empathy or understanding of women who are looking after a baby.

The damaging point is  he is now in charge of Scotland’s Equality and Human Rights Commission policies including a campaign to help women being unfairly treated at work. One wonders how sympathetic he will be.

I put this to the Scottish EHRC and got a stock reply saying:

“John has brought to the Commission a wealth of experience, knowledge and dedication to our role in creating a fairer society and is making a valuable contribution to our work.”

I did ask whether Mr Wilkes had been sent on a retraining programme since his knowledge of  indirect discrimination under the Equality Act and other laws seemed to be rather minimal. But they told me they had nothing more to say.

Given the recent history of the EHRC in sacking disabled and black staff  I might have been asking the wrong questions. He will probably fit in well with the ethos there.

He is also not the only recent appointment to the EHRC from organisations that had discriminated against women on maternity leave.

 

 

Equality Commission facing waves of strikes from disgruntled staff

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Striking Commission staff on Scotland. Pic credit : Commons Space

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The long running bitter dispute between the management and the staff of the Equality and Human Rights Commission has spilled over into a wave of strikes which will run until the day after polling day.

Rolling strikes began in Glasgow this week and will continue in London, Cardiff and Manchester following the sacking of many disabled and black and ethnic minority staff – some by email. One of the worst cases involved  57 year old Markus Caruana, a disabled former flute player in the Corps of Drums with the Grenadier Guards.

Markus Caruana was unfortunate enough to have been both at the Guildford pub bombings in 1974 and the Chelsea Barracks bombing in 1981 which seriously injured regimental bandsmen from the Irish Guards. He was fortunate enough to escape unscathed but later had a  serious disability.  He lost his 75 per cent of his hearing and got  an incurable muscle wasting disease called Marie-Tooth disease (CMT) which affects the nervous system that supports muscles, often weakening the legs and feet.

So ferocious has the sacking policy been  that there are now vacancies at the ECHR even though it has suffered enormous cuts since 2010. But the management have banned any of the sacked staff  from applying for a job.

According to the PCS Union The Commission’s expenditure report for April shows it has spent £90,876 on agency staff in April and £17,900 on recruitment costs. The spending on agency staff is a significant increase on previous months – £44,000 in January, £61,000 in February and £65,000 in March.

A Commission spokesperson, said: “We have greatly reduced our spend on contractors in recent years. Contractors are, however, used when we need certain technical skills and experience that are not available in the Commission. The recent increase has been due to one off costs and no long term rise in spending.”

Of the eight union members issued notices of compulsory redundancy, six are black or minority ethnic, five are disabled and seven are older workers. Four are union reps and one was a lead negotiator opposing the cuts. We are now pursuing legal action against the EHRC for victimisation of trade union representatives.

The management issued a defiant statement  on the existing strike action.

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Rebecca Hilsenrath: chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and leading the programme of staff cuts Pic credit: Douglas-Scott co.uk

Rebecca Hilsenrath, EHRC Chief Executive said: “The changes we are making will allow us to respond to the new challenges we face. I am proud of how well our staff have embraced this new way of working and our ambitious programme of work.

“We have made every attempt to end this dispute with the union and have offered them concessions at every stage of talks. We are now focused on delivering our business plan.  We are unclear as to their rationale for continuing action.”

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “Our members only take strike action as a last resort but management’s reluctance to adequately address their concerns have given them no choice.

“There are vacancies at the Commission and there is no reason why our members can’t have those jobs.

“The fact that the government has cut the Commission to a quarter of its original size demonstrates the Tories’ lack of commitment to equality and human rights issues.

“Further budget and staff cuts would leave the commission toothless at a time when more needs to be done to tackle hate crime and discrimination.”

What is extraordinary about this whole situation is that  the issues that the ECHR is supposed to represent – employment rights, equal pay, the rights of the disabled and  unfair discrimination against black and ethnic minority and gay workers – are all being undermined by their own attitudes to their staff.

If there are to be tribunal hearings – it will mean the reputation of the organisation will be damaged- and all these causes will suffer. This does not look like going away.

 

 

Exclusive: How the equality watchdog sacked a disabled army veteran and IRA bomb survivor by email

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Rebecca Hilsenrath: chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and leading the programme of staff cuts Pic credit: Douglas-Scott co.uK

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Donald Trump : You’re fired. Credit Giphy

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Late last year this blog featured the case of  57 year old Markus Caruana,  who works in corporate communications at the Birmingham office of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.To recap

He is a former flute player in the Corps of Drums with the Grenadier Guards.

Markus Caruana was unfortunate enough to have been both at the Guildford pub bombings in 1974 and the Chelsea Barracks bombing in 1981 which seriously injured regimental bandsmen from the Irish Guards.

He escaped unscathed in both instances but saw three of his friends killed in an IRA attack in Crossmaglen in Northern Ireland.

He left the army in 1985 to become a landscape gardener and then took advantage of a Unison sponsored education scheme to learn to read and write.

He had been a school refuser after being bullied and could hardly read or write or read music but was able to play his  flute because he had a natural memory for tunes.

In 2002 he secured a job with the Disability Rights Commission which later became part of the EHRC.

Sadly he lost his 75 per cent of his hearing and got  an incurable muscle wasting disease called Marie-Tooth disease (CMT) which affects the nervous system that supports muscles, often weakening the legs and feet.

The EHRC had enabled him to have a support worker so he could do his job there – but she is also facing redundancy now he has failed to retain his job.

Yesterday he  and five other disabled people was sacked by email by the EHRC and given 24 hours notice to clear his desk. He was one of ten people made compulsorily redundant by emails from executives from the Commission.

The decision led to a furious reaction from one of the main union representing staff,the PCS.

EHRC says the staff will receive pay in lieu of notice (PILON), but workers did not agree to this because it closes off the opportunity to seek redeployment at the commission or elsewhere in the civil service.

In a letter back to EHRC, the union states: “By imposing PILON you are cutting off this option and effectively consigning BME, disabled, women and trade union members to unemployment. There should only be PILON in cases where the individual concerned has agreed to it.”

Commenting on the cases, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “It’s absolutely reprehensible that dedicated staff have been sacked and told to clear their desks with a day’s notice.

“That this has happened at the government body charged with upholding human rights and fair treatment in our society is an absolute scandal and we will continue to fight it.”

My own take on it is this. It is quite clear that the head of the EHRC, Rebecca Hilsenrath, is a particularly vindictive person to take action like this – by making it difficult for these people to get other jobs in the civil service.

Her action reminds me a bit of the attitude taken by Donald Trump towards disabled people. I am sure she would make an excellent addition to his staff in Washington though I don’t know whether she would share his locker room talk or not.

I have also written an article for Tribune about the sackings and the future strikes.

Exclusive: Disabled army veteran and IRA bomb survivor targeted for the sack by human rights watchdog

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David Isaac, chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and agreeing to sack disabled and black people who work for his organisation.

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Rebeacca Hilsenrath: chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and leading the programme of staff cuts Pic credit: Douglas-Scott co.uk

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This is a story of the human cost of the Government’s cruel policy of saving money at any cost that is being pursued by a watchdog that is supposed to champion human rights in Britain.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission – despite strong staff and union opposition- is pursuing a policy of slashing staff. Its own equality impact assessment reveals that the cuts are to fall on the very people it is supposed to defend. Some 75 per cent of black people and the majority of disabled  people are said to have “failed” an initial assessment to keep their jobs. Most of the winners are young, able bodied and white.

But it is not just about statistics, it is about people.

One of the people who seems certain for the chop is  57 year old Markus Caruana,  who works in corporate communications at their Birmingham office.

He is a former flute player in the Corps of Drums with the Grenadier Guards.

Markus Caruana was unfortunate enough to have been both at the Guildford pub bombings in 1974 and the Chelsea Barracks bombing in 1981 which seriously injured regimental bandsmen from the Irish Guards.

He escaped unscathed in both instances but saw three of his friends killed in an IRA attack in Crossmaglen in Northern Ireland.

He left the army in 1985 to become a landscape gardener and then took advantage of a Unison sponsored education scheme to learn to read and write.

He had been a school refuser after being bullied and could hardly read or write or read music but was able to play his  flute because he had a natural memory for tunes.

In 2002 he secured a job with the Disability Rights Commission which later became part of the EHRC.

Sadly he lost his 75 per cent of his hearing and got  an incurable muscle wasting disease called Marie-Tooth disease (CMT) which affects the nervous system that supports muscles, often weakening the legs and feet.

The EHRC had enabled him to have a support worker so he could do his job there – but she is also facing redundancy now he has failed to retain his job.

Lois Austin, a full time official for the PCS union, which is fighting the cuts, said: “The Equality and Human Rights Commission are targeting some of the most highly competent disabled and black people for this new round of cuts.

” He is just one of a number of disabled and black people, some with young families, who are losing their jobs.

” If this was a private company the EHRC should be prosecuting them for discrimination. Instead they are setting an example for other firms who want to dump the disabled to save costs and the bother of employing them.

The EHRC  take is this. A spokesperson said:

“Whilst we cannot discuss individual cases, we deeply regret having to reduce our headcount as a result of budget losses, but like every public sector organisation we have had cuts imposed on us. We have strongly resisted these cuts, but believe the changes we are making will ensure we can still deliver our ambitious programme.”

In my view the EHRC’s stance is a hostage to fortune. They tell and could even prosecute firms who discriminate  against disabled people. If I were an unscrupulous employer I could now tell them to get stuffed – saying they are only following what the EHRC do rather than

say – which is to dump expensive and bothersome people who need support workers – to save money and increase my profits.

Britain’s  human rights body should hang its head in shame for what it is doing to its own disabled staff.

 

The crisis at the heart of Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission

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David Isaac: Chairing a fractured organisation with staff and management now at loggerheads.

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Rebeacca Hilsenrath: chief executive of the Equality and Human rights Commission Pic credit: Douglas-Scott co.uK

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Human rights – whether it is gay rights, racial discrimination, gender equality, equal pay or disability discrimination – is at the heart of many of the big issues facing modern Britain today.

It is therefore a tragedy that the organisation responsible for monitoring such issues is now a fractured body with management at loggerheads with staff and the main focus of a destructive policy of government cuts by people who appear to believe there is no such thing as society and these rights are not necessarily worth defending.

Today this body came within a hair’s breadth of facing strike action by a frustrated and alienated staff  and the action was only averted by talks at Acas. Contrary to the popular image civil servants do not take strike action lightly – it is only a measure of last resort. So when two unions, the Public and Commercial Services Union and Unite, decided to take such action, things have reached crisis point.

Its crisis is not surprising when a body like this has suffered cut after cut until it is a shadow of its former self and people – including the United Nations – are questioning whether it can have any meaningful role in defending people’s rights.

The  gaping divide can be seen between the  perceptions of management and staff over what is happening there at the moment – I did an article on the forthcoming strike for Tribune last Friday.(unfortunately not on line at the moment) and one on the great divide between management and worker’s salaries for Sunday Mirror earlier which is the subject of a dispute by the Commission ( also not on line at the moment).

The present cuts whereby nineteen of the first 26 posts due to be axed are held by staff in the three lowest paid grades, means the government body responsible for protecting vulnerable workers is itself disproportionately targeting older, ethnic minority and disabled staff. Another 50 are expected to follow.

The union and staff reaction to this is shown by a quote from Mark Serwotka, the genetal secretary of PCS, “The commission is spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on consultants while getting rid of low paid staff who provide daily support to victims of discrimination.

“It is sickening that as division and hate are being fostered in our communities in the wake of the Brexit vote, this Tory government is cutting the staff whose job it is to combat this.”

The management view is the opposite.

A Commission spokesperson said:“It is disappointing that the union have decided to take this action. We have made every effort to work constructively with them on our proposals as we implement our new way of working. We have listened to them throughout the process and acted on a number of their suggestions.

“Like every public sector organisation we have had cuts to our budget.  We need to make savings and we need to change how we work to deliver our strategic plan.  We are confident that any action will not affect the important work we do in protecting and improving people’s rights.”

“We have a very diverse workforce when compared to the wider public and private sectors.  The operating model was consulted on exhaustively with all staff, transparently and with a focus on the most effective structure for the Commission rather than the individuals in the posts affected. In addition to this, there will be a stronger focus on new training and mentoring schemes to support more minority ethnic and disabled staff into leadership positions.”

Given human rights is a central issue in Britain I have decided to forensically examine what is exactly going on at the EHRC. Can the top management justify its large salaries at the taxpayers’ expense? Is running the EHRC just a career option for an elite group of officials and a millionaire lawyer ?  What issues are the EHRC  really taking up and are they effective in doing so? Who are the people they want to sack from their organisation? Is the EHRC  really value for money?:Do they practice what they preach to private industry and the public services?

Fortunately  I have seen a large volume of material from a wide variety of sources – far too much to put in one blog or article – that  allows me to look at such issues. Over the next few weeks I intend to examine this and put it to the EHRC and other scrutiny bodies, like Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee, which is preparing to examine whether the EHRC is doing a proper job.

 

Racist and Cruel: The nasty world of the Equality and Human Rights Commission

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The body that is supposed to protect the rights of  ethic minorities, the disabled and women from discrimination and unequal pay is about to behave like some of the worst employers it likes to attack.

Faced with an edict for cuts from wealthy Cabinet minister Nicky Morgan (  a former corporate lawyer with  City  firm  Travers Smith whose partners earn £935,000 a year) millionaire chairman David Isaac  ( a partner in law firm Pinsent Masons) is about to sack some 30 of the lowest paid workers at the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The decision borders in my view on being  racist and cruel since the very victims will, according to the unions who have access to the redundancy list, be black and/or disabled and have difficulty getting jobs elsewhere. I have written about it this week in Tribune magazine here.

The people administrating the cuts are all wealthy people – either on ” off pay roll ” contracts worth up to £900 a day so they can minimise the tax they pay to the government or highly paid executives like Rebecca Hilsenrath ( £105,000 a year as chief executive – a pay rise of £10,000 in the last year but £30,000 a year less than her male predecessor) after she moved from being chief legal officer for the EHRC. She lives I notice in an expensive part of Hertfordshire like me. She seems to have moved a long way from her commitments given in this interview with a recruitment magazine three years ago.

They will, of course, be totally unaffected by any cuts and will continue to live a very comfortable life. This will be a world away from the people they want to sack who  are already suffering from the cruel policies of this government.Employers will not want the bother of giving disabled people  a job if they can get a fit person to do it.

The policy also has a much wider effect since these people are the very  workers who take up nitty gritty case work that can bring justice for ordinary people who face discrimination on racial grounds,unequal pay,  sacked for being pregnant, or for being gay. In other words it is bad news for ordinary people trying to get justice ( the wealthy friends of the lawyer chairman  and chief executive can afford to employ a lawyer).

Two unions at the EHRC – Unite and the Public and Commercial Services union – are furious about the redundancies which are part of an overall cut of 20 per cent (may be 30 per cent)  being imposed by Nicky ­Morgan, Education Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities.

In a letter to Maria Miller, chair of the Women’s and Equalities Select Committee, Unite national officer Siobhan Endean said the cuts would turn the EHRC into a “remote, inaccessible think tank.”

She added:  “It is difficult for us to see how the commission can implement a new operating model and fulfil its functions effectively on £16.8 million a year when the Government concluded in 2012 that it needed £30 million a year.”

Of course the Commission disagree . A spokesman said:

“While we do not comment on the detail of leaks, our business plan sets out our intention to develop and implement a new operating model this year which will ensure we have the right structure, people and processes in place to deliver our ambitious plans to tackle discrimination and promote equality of opportunity and human rights.

“We know already that we will need to make significant savings. It is important we involve staff as early as possible. Responsible leadership is about facing up to future challenges not ducking them. Our operating model can help us deliver more impact as well as help us manage difficult change.”

Nice sounding words but I don’t believe them. I think the EHRC is becoming part of the new nasty Britain. It will issue fine words but do nothing practical about the plight of people  because it won’t have the staff to do it. It is all part of turning the country into a place where the wealthy feel comfortable and the  rest have to scavenge to survive. The only added twist is that the well paid people at the top of this pyramid at the ECHR are being paid out of ordinary people’s taxes.