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 nasty coalition move to make English human rights subservient to business profits

Are you black or gay and feel your firm discriminates against you? Are you disabled and find a company stops your right of access? Are you woman and you don’t get equal pay with a man?

Naturally you might expect the government’s independent champion  the Equality and Human Rights Commission, to be on your side and prosecute firms who repeatedly failed you.

But a pernicious piece of legislation now going the House of Lords plans to put all this at risk by putting a nasty spanner in the works to hobble the very body that is supposed to stand up for your rights.

The Deregulation Bill – promoted as liberating business from silly bureaucratic rules – includes what s

ounds like a rather arcane provision saying that all regulators for the first time must consider the impact on economic growth before they launch criminal or civil proceedings ( see clauses 83/84) against a company.

In other words if the EHRC doesn’t do this- big companies with loads of cash can take them to judicial review and get cases where they break the law on discrimination annulled. It would also make the EHRC – not the most radical of bodies – even more careful before it takes up your case.

The government are not planning to say until the law is passed which regulator –  it could be anybody from the health and safety commission  to English Heritage or the gas and electricity regulators- they will apply the rules. Only that they won’t be able to impose it on regulators in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

But a group of MPs and peers have already rumbled that the EHRC is one of the targets – and ministers have had to confirm that it is true.

The section by the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the Deregulation Bill is coruscating about this .They say :”Applying the economic growth duty to the EHRC poses a significant risk to the EHRC’s independence…The Government is therefore risking the possibility of the EHRC’s accredited “A” status being downgraded and of putting the UK in breach of its obligations under EU equality law. This could be easily avoided if the proposed new duty did not apply to the EHRC. However, it would  appear that the Government still intends to apply the economic growth duty to the EHRC and to attempt to deal with concerns about independence in another way.”

I gather peers when the bill is debated clause by clause from October 21 in the Lords intend to have a real go at the government for doing this.I can offer him one historical argument.

For cinema addicts there is great feel good film doing the rounds called Belle – see this link on Youtube –  set in the eighteenth century about how a mixed race girl is adopted by the family of the Lord Chief Justice who has to rule on whether slaves who were deliberately drowned by a ships’owner were ditched cargo or human beings.

The main case for treating them as cargo and not recognising their rights as human being – was that slavery was big business and that English firms who shipped slaves in future could face economic ruin.In other words just as written in this  21st century bill – the lord chief justice – had to consider the economic consequences alongside human rights.

I am sure Helen Grant, the former equalities minister and now sports and tourism minister, who is of Nigerian and English heritage herself, would not condone the return of slavery to protect business for one moment.

But if she as a former equalities minister  ignores this pernicious clause and does not  urge her colleagues to exempt the EHRC from this legislation she is returning to the arguments of the eighteenth century. Like Belle in the film, her heritage is the same – except for being brought up in a Carlisle housing estate rather than in Kenwood in Hampstead.