The government has proposed amendments to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill which will repeal significant provisions of the Equality Act, despite overwhelming opposition to the proposals in recent consultations.
The amendments include:
- Repealing provisions which make employers liable for harassment of their employees by third parties
- Repealing provisions which enable individuals to obtain further information about potential discrimination from an alleged discriminator
- Repeal of the power for tribunals to make wider recommendations to prevent or reduce the effect of discrimination by, for example, ordering an employer to introduce an equal opportunities policy
The amendments also bring in Adrian Beecroft’s “protected conversations” as “pre-termination negotiations” and remove employers’ strict liability for breaches of health and safety regulations.
Although 83 per cent of respondents to the consultation on obtaining further information, 79 per cent to the wider recommendations consultation and 71 per cent to the third party harassment consultation opposed repeal, the government said it was not persuaded that it should rethink its plans.
In an article on the Union News website, Iain Birrell of Thompsons said: “The sheer contempt for process and opinion, and the sheer audacity is stunning even for this government.”
In a surprising move, the government is also amending the Bill to give tribunals the power to issue regulations requiring employers which lose equal pay claims to undertake mandatory equal pay audits. That is, unless:
- they have completed an audit in the previous three years which meets the prescribed requirements
- it is clear without an audit that action is required to avoid equal pay breaches occurring or continuing
- the breach the tribunal has found gives no reason to think that there may be other breaches, or
- the disadvantages of an equal pay audit would outweigh its benefits.
However,as Thompsons points out, audits are “unlikely to have much impact. In 2011-12 only 32 equal pay cases resulted in a finding for the claimant (down from 280 the year before).”
The amendments were published ahead of the Bill’s report stage and third reading in the House of Commons on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.