Memorandum submitted by Employers Forum on Age

 

1 About the EFA

 

The Employers Forum on Age (EFA) welcomes the opportunity to contribute its thoughts to the Select Committee, with particular reference to topics in which we regard age as a significant issue.

 

The EFA, established in 1996, is the first ever employer led initiative to promote the business benefits of an age diverse workforce. We campaign against age discrimination at all ages. The EFA has some 180 employer members from the public, private and voluntary sectors, representing over 10% of the UK workforce.

 

The EFA works closely with employers to share good practice in age employment policies and to represent their interests to Government and others.

2 Equality in Employment

2.1 How effective has DWP been in achieving equality in employment, how would it have to change to achieve greater equality in employment?

We observe that responsibility within Government for equality in employment has historically been somewhat fragmented (for example, with the lead on the transposition of the European Framework Directive 2000/78 into UK law falling to BERR). In consequence, we consider that the effectiveness of DWP in this regard can only be fairly judged in respect of strands[1] which have fallen naturally within its remit, and therefore most notably age.

The EFA considers that DWP has, through the Age Positive campaign and more widely, been a strong influence for an age neutral workplace and the benefits of encouraging a greater participation rate of older workers.

Whilst on-going responsibility for the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations - and hence for the review of the operation of the Default Retirement Age in 2011 - has thus far been allocated to BERR, we are firmly of the view that DWP should have co-ownership of the latter, in view of the need for a harmonised approach on extended working life, occupational pensions and State benefits.

2.2 How should the Government improve protection of carers in equality legislation, following the decision in the Coleman case?

Whilst we wait to see how the originating Employment Tribunal will deal with the case following the ECJ judgment, we believe that the Government may need to consider amending the Age Regulations to include age discrimination "by association", since the current definition used does not permit such a claim. Without such additional protection, the position of many carers may be disadvantaged.

3 The Public Sector Equality Duty

3.1 Is a Single Duty desirable?

Many public sector members of the EFA have already gone beyond the current compliance threshold established for gender, race and disability to embrace the other strands. We believe that a Single Duty is essential to ensure that there is no possibility of creating a hierarchy of strands, and to avoid duplication. Whilst we appreciate the concern to avoid a dilution of the existing strand-specific duties we believe that pragmatic solutions must be found to avoid perpetuating a silo approach to equality.

4 Private Sector commitment and support, guidance, advice and information for employers

4.1 Is an Equality Duty on the Private Sector workable?

We do not believe that there is clear evidence to support the need for an Equality Duty on the private sector, and there is a real risk that many employers would see this as over-regulation. Provided that appropriate indicators of diversity performance are adopted (and that these are not narrowly or prescriptively restricted to, for example, the gender pay gap), we believe that substantial change in the private sector will flow from an increased focus on equality and diversity in public sector procurement from private sector suppliers.

4.2 What can be done in the realm of light-touch regulations, guidance and advice to promote a culture change in the private sector for all those subject to discrimination?

The EFA, like the other employers' fora, campaigns for culture change in respect of its own domain of discrimination. The guidance and advice provided by institutions such as ACAS is an invaluable aid to these efforts, and we look to the EHRC also to contribute where appropriate.

We are less optimistic about the prospects for an equality 'kite mark', which has been suggested as desirable for the private sector. If such a proposal is to be progressed, we consider it essential that employers' views are properly canvassed, along with those of the employers fora which offer strand-specific benchmarking, to ensure that the 'kite mark' is workable.

 

5 Single Equality Act

What is the role of the Equality and Human Rights Commission within the single Equality Act?

Whilst not the architect of the proposed single Equality Act, the EHRC should be a key influence on its shape and has a crucial role to play a in ensuring its provisions are upheld. We are encouraged by the progress the commission had made in establishing a broad base for consultation on its future direction, and we believe its holistic, theme-based approach to equality and diversity - extending as necessary beyond the consideration only of groups protected under discrimination law - will be instrumental in breaking down barriers to fairness.

We hope that these observations will be of value to the Select Committee, and will be pleased to provide such further information as you may decide useful.

November 2008

 



[1] By strand we mean a characteristic, such as age or sexual orientation, which is protected against discrimination in the field of employment or more broadly.