New Year, same old story …

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

It’s becoming depressingly predictable: the persistence of the gender pay gay in the United Kingdom.

This time last year, I was discussing with my students the struggle that City of Glasgow Council female employees were undertaking to win their claims for equal pay. After a period of industrial action, the women finally won their struggle:

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/jan/17/glasgow-council-women-workers-win-12-year-equal-pay-battle

We’ve just entered 2020 and it seems as if nothing much has changed in the wider world (more on this later).

Theoretically, the gender pay gap should be a thing of the past. We have had legislation in place for nearly 45 years in this country: the Equal Pay Act 1970 (which came into force in December 1975) and the current Equality Act 2010.

An info graphic which shows the number of Employment Tribunal cases in the UK involving equal pay claims (2008-2019) can be seen below:

Source: UK Ministry of Justice obtained from BBC News

True, the above figures show the number of equal pay claims in overall decline – effectively being halved (from a high of over 60,000 in 2008 to just over 30,000 in 2019); but my riposte to that would to say still too many.

In today’s edition of The Independent, new research, carried out by the Institute of Public Policy Research, indicates that female General Practitioners (physicians for our overseas readers) are paid up to £40,000 less than their male colleagues every year.

For each £1 that a male colleague earns, a woman earns 35 pence less. To reinforce this point, the article states that female GPs are effectively providing their services free of charge between September and December every year.

In language of the Equality Act 2010, the female GPs are carrying out ‘like work’ when comparing themselves to their male colleagues. There seems to be absolutely no lawful justification for this disparity in pay between the sexes.

A link to the article in The Independent can be found below:

https://edition.independent.co.uk/editions/uk.co.independent.issue.100120/data/9277336/index.html

The equal pay laws imply a sex or gender equality clause into every person’s contract of employment. Employers therefore have a legal duty to ensure gender equality in relation to terms and conditions of service.

It seems pretty simple, so why isn’t it happening in 2020?

An explanation for this situation in the medical profession has centred around the development of a ‘two tier’ system whereby more men are partners in GP surgeries whereas a large number of women take on the role of a salaried GP. Women tend to become salaried GPs because they feel that this allows them to work flexibly around their family commitments. So, again, what we appear to be seeing is women being penalised because they are trying to balance work and family (the so called ‘motherhood’ penalty).

Also on this day …

And purely by coincidence another equal pay story …

… Samira Ahmed, BBC journalist, wins her Employment Tribunal claim for equal pay (see below):

http://news.sky.com/story/samira-ahmed-tv-presenter-wins-sex-discrimination-equal-pay-claim-against-the-bbc-11905304

And if you’re still not convinced …

read the following article in The Independent about discrimination in pay between male and female apprentices (guess what?; it’s not the men who are the victims):

https://edition.independent.co.uk/editions/uk.co.independent.issue.150120/data/9283611/index.html

Copyright – Seán J Crossan, 10 and 15 January 2020

Pansexual

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

A person’s protected characteristics in terms of the Equality Act 2010 seems to be the theme of the Blog today.

Sexual orientation is a protected characteristic in terms of Sections 4 and 12 of the Act. Most people these days are familiar with the following definitions in terms of an individual’s sexuality: e.g. heterosexual, homosexual (gay/lesbian) and bisexual.

What about a person who declares themselves to be pansexual?

According to Stonewall, the group which campaigns on behalf of the LGBTI community, this term refers to a person ‘whose romantic and/or sexual attraction towards others is not limited by sex or gender.’ Stonewall also makes the point that bisexual individuals can declare themselves to be pansexual.

An interesting story appeared in today’s British media about pansexuality. Layla Moran, Liberal Democrat MP and possible contender for the leadership of that Party, has declared herself to be pansexual. She is the first Member of the Westminster Parliament to define her sexual orientation in this way. Previously, she would have declared herself as heterosexual.

Andrew Adonis, Labour member of the House of Lords and former UK Government minister tweeted his reaction to the story:

The point that Adonis was trying to make is that it shouldn’t have been a story. As a society, the UK has supposedly become more tolerant and progressive towards people with different sexual orientations.

Ms Moran admitted herself that the decision to be open about her sexual orientation had caused friends and colleagues to worry that this might harm her career – and her aspiration to be the next or future leader of the Liberal Democrats. So much for a more tolerant and progressive society …

Explaining her reason for going public about her sexual orientation, Ms Moran stated that:

… I feel now is the time to talk about it, because as an MP I spend a lot of my time defending our community [LGBTI] and talking about our community. I want people to know I am part of our community as well.”

A link to the story in Pink News can be found below:

https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2020/01/02/layla-moran-liberal-democrats-mp-coming-our-pansexual-girlfriend-exclusive-interview/

You can also find below a link to the Sky News website where an individual discusses what pansexuality means to them:

https://news.sky.com/story/not-restricted-by-gender-or-sex-what-pansexuality-means-to-me-11900619

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 3 January 2020

Tickets for “people of colour” … or the problem with positive discrimination

Photo by Ehimetalor Unuabona on Unsplash

Tickets for “people of colour” …

In a previous blog (The force is not with you … published on 28 February and updated on 10 June 2019), I discussed the problems associated with policies of positive discrimination.

So, it is with some interest that I read an item on Sky News today about Afrofuture Fest a music festival which was to take place in the American City of Detroit. The festival organisers had offered tickets for sale to members of the public. Absolutely nothing unusual in that readers will undoubtedly respond, but what was unusual was the fact that the price to be paid in conjunction with an ‘early bird’ promotion was to be determined by the customer’s racial origins (tickets for “people of colour”).

If you were an African American applying for tickets, you would pay less than a White American wanting to go to the gig. I admit that I was intrigued by this marketing approach and I wanted to know what were the underlying motivations of the organisers? I confess: I’m coming from a different cultural perspective here in the UK and, generally, we’re not too keen on the widespread use of positive discrimination as a tool for promoting equality.

Well, it would seem that the pricing policy was motivated by a genuine determination to ensure that African Americans (who happen to be in the disproportionately lower income section of US society) were not deterred from attending the event by high prices. Furthermore, the organisers wanted a racially diverse group of music fans to attend the festival.

All well meaning, but the event has now become mired in controversy with the organisers receiving threats from white supremacist groups and artists deciding not to perform. The ticket policy has now been scrapped.

A link to how the story was reported on Sky News can be found below:

Festival scraps cheaper ‘people of colour’ tickets after ‘white supremacist threats’
http://news.sky.com/story/festival-scraps-cheaper-people-of-colour-tickets-after-white-supremacist-threats-11758953

Positive discrimination: the legal position

Discriminating in favour of one group of people over another (whether this is motivated by a good intention or not) will most likely be regarded as an example of direct discrimination which contravenes Section 13 of the Equality Act 2010.

The judgement of the House of Lords in James v Eastleigh Borough Council [1990] 2 AC 751 was particularly strong on this point and it was irrelevant that the Council was acting from motives of good faith i.e. to promote healthier lifestyles for female residents of the Borough. The simple fact was that the Borough Council was acting unlawfully (in breach of the then Sex Discrimination Act 1975) when it charged men for entry to the swimming pool when women were not charged for access to this facility. The Borough Council had committed an act of direct, sex discrimination.

Positive discrimination has only really been successful in the UK when the Westminster Parliament has given it the full backing of the law and, additionally, it complies with this country’s EU legal obligations.

One notable example of positive discrimination is the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002 which aimed to encourage more women to enter Parliament by having all women short lists. Previously, such an attempt to promote positive action would have been illegal under the (now repealed) Sex Discrimination Act 1975.  Some (male) Labour activists did, in fact, bring successful legal challenges under the former sex discrimination legislation on the grounds that they had suffered discrimination because of their gender in being automatically disqualified from the parliamentary candidates’ selection process (Jepson and Dyas-Elliott v The Labour Party and Others [1996] IRLR 116).

The other example of positive discrimination involves the Police Service of Northern Ireland. The PSNI was created in 2001 following the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement in 1998. The PSNI replaced the old Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) which was largely seen as a biased or sectarian police force by most Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland.

According to figures produced by the official Patten Report, the RUC was overwhelming Protestant in composition (91.7% to 8.3% Roman Catholic).

One of the key recommendations of the Patten Report was that:

“An equal number of Protestants and Catholics should be drawn from the pool of qualified candidates.” [para. 15.10]

This led to a deliberate 50/50 recruitment policy in which half of the candidates recruited to the PSNI had to come from a Roman Catholic background.

That said, there was significant criticism of the 50/50 recruitment policy coming from the Unionist and Loyalist community in Northern Ireland – who were never going to be reconciled to the demise of the RUC in any case. The recruitment policy was only ended in 2011 by Owen Patterson MP, the then Conservative Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Predictably, this development did not please the Nationalist and Republican community in Northern Ireland.

Affirmative or positive action

In the United States of America, of course, there is a completely different approach to the promotion of diversity and equality from what we would understand in the UK and the European Union. The Americans, for example, are very keen on affirmative action (or positive discrimination) and often employers will speak of filling quotas i.e. recruiting a certain number of African Americans or Hispanic Americans. This practice of affirmative action or positive discrimination is an attempt by the Americans to overcome the problems of historic and entrenched racism in their society. In the UK and the European Union, we too have had our problems with under-representation of certain groups in the work-place, but any attempt to introduce positive discrimination has been much more limited in scope.

Affirmative action has its limits: the ticket policy at Afrofuture Fest would, however, appear to be a breach of the Civil Rights Act 1964 (Title II) which states that:

“All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.

The UK and EU approaches to positive discrimination

Limited positive action or discrimination has, for some time, been tolerated by the Court of Justice of the European Union where employers gave preference, as part of an equality policy, to female candidates over suitably qualified male candidates in order to address gender imbalances in the work-place (see Kalanke Freie Hansestadt Bremen (1995) C-450/93 and Badeck and Others (2000) C-158/97).

The Equality Act 2010 does, admittedly, permit what is referred to as ‘positive action’ in fairly limited circumstances and it has been observed that it does not really advance the law very much in this area.

Certainly, in terms of the public sector equality duty, organisations may be permitted to take specified forms positive action in the work-place to eradicate or minimise forms of discriminations e.g. ‘the need to tackle prejudice and promote understanding’ (see Section 149(5) of the Equality Act)

Section 158 of the Act permits an employer to take positive action to help individuals with a protected characteristic to overcome or minimise such a disadvantage. Such action on the part of the employer must, however, be a proportionate means of achieving this aim.

Section 159 also permits an employer to take positive action in recruitment and promotion in relation to people with protected characteristics. The employer will only really be able to utilise this provision if candidates for a job or a promoted post have the same or similar qualifications. In such situations, the employer will able to consider if candidates with protected characteristics are at a disadvantage or are under represented in matters of recruitment or promotion.

There is one important exception to the rules on positive action contained in the Act: it will not be illegal for an employer to treat a disabled person more favourably in comparison to a non-disabled person.

Conclusion

In the UK, positive discrimination in recruitment can be lawful under very limited circumstances. In other words, it is a practice which, if objectively justified, can be used to overcome historical patterns of discrimination e.g. to address the woefully low numbers of female politicians or the under-representation of Roman Catholics in the Police Service in Northern Ireland.

Such arrangements permitting limited positive discrimination tend to be governed by ‘sunset clauses’ i.e. they have a built in expiry date, so they will not last forever. Furthermore, positive discrimination is really only legitimate  in so called ‘tie-break’ situations where several applicants have the same qualifications and experience, but as a matter of public policy, for example, a female or minority ethnic applicant is given preference in order to address historic diversity imbalances in that particular work-place.

The Americans, on the other hand, have tended to pursue a very explicit policy of positive discrimination or affirmative action by placing an emphasis on the filling of quotas – either, for example, in employment or education. Such an approach places a legal obligation on employers and service providers (colleges and universities) to ensure that certain minimum numbers of people from racial or ethnic minority backgrounds are given a job or a place in training or education.

As we have seen with the ticket policy for events such as Afrofuture Fest, positive discrimination can be controversial and potentially unlawful.

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 8 July 2019

Sexism in the UK

Photo by 🇨🇭 Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

If you read this Blog fairly regularly, you will be aware that the issue of equality (or should that be the lack of equality?) is a common theme.

Depressingly in 2019, print and online media are full of stories which reinforce the fact that, as a society, the UK still has a long way to go in terms of gender equality. From the entrenched gender pay gap; to pregnancy and maternity discrimination; and the prevalence of incompetent male leaders, it still looks very much like a man’s world.

If you don’t believe me or think that I’m painting an overly bleak picture, please read about the latest research carried out by the Young Women’s Trust which found that 2 out of every 5 female managers believes that the place where the work suffers from sexism.

Despite the presence of legislation, such as the Equality Act 2010, women still struggle for equality in the work-place. Still don’t believe me? Just ask the female employees of City of Glasgow Council who had to fight tooth and nail to achieve equal pay earlier this year.

A link to a press release from the Young Women’s Trust can be found below:

https://www.youngwomenstrust.org/what_we_do/media_centre/press_releases/987_two_in_five_female_bosses_say_their_workplace_is_sexist

A link to an article in The Independent about the Trust’s research can be found below:

https://edition.independent.co.uk/editions/uk.co.independent.issue.200619/data/8965916/index.html

CopyrighSeán J Crossan, 20 June 2019

(In)Equality in the EU?

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Have member states of the European Union made progress this last year in the protection of minority groups?

It would seem that the answer to this question is not particularly straightforward if you read the EU’s Fundamental Rights Report 2019.

Michael O’Flaherty, Director of the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency presents a fairly gloomy picture across Europe:

Fundamental rights alarm bells are ringing across the EU as inequalities, harassment and prejudices continue to grow. … We need robust responses outlining how rights benefit us all and provide the answers to the inequalities that are holding us back from a fair and just society where everyone can prosper.”

Across the EU, there are Governments in power (Hungary and Italy particularly) which promote strongly anti-immigrant messages. Until recently, the far-right Freedom Party was part of the coalition government of former Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz in Austria. In France, Germany and Spain, we have witnessed rising levels of support for far right parties such as the Front National, AfD and Vox respectively.

Other European countries have witnessed similar trends and did well in the recent European Parliament elections in May 2019.

We are not immune from such trends in the UK with many people being suspicious of the motivations of the Brexit Party and UKIP (despite denials to the contrary by the leaderships of these organisations that they are not far right movements).

In essence, the conclusions of the Fundamental Rights Report 2019 are as follows:

  • The levels of racial discrimination and harassment across the EU remain stubbornly high e.g. Black, Jewish and Roma people continue to report discrimination and harassment in their daily lives;
  • A significant percentage of Europeans (40%) consider immigration to be a problem and these individuals over-estimate the levels of (actual or true) immigration to the EU;
  • The number of children in poverty has decreased, but at 25% this figure is a still a cause for concern with certain groups (Roma children) being particularly affected.

A link to the Fundamental Rights Report 2019 can be found below:

https://fra.europa.eu/en/publication/2019/fundamental-rights-2019

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 10 June 2019