Memorandum submitted by British Chambers of Commerce
About the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC)
1.1 The British Chambers of Commerce is the national body for a powerful and influential network of Accredited Chambers of Commerce across the UK; a network that directly serves not only its member businesses but the wider business community. Representing 100,000 businesses that together employ 5 million people, the BCC is the Ultimate Business Network.
2.1 Employers want to recruit and retain the best people for the job irrespective of race or gender. Whilst we support the intentions behind this bill, we think that the mechanisms used will increase the administrative burden on business and are unlikely to have the desired impact in terms of equality
2.2 In these tough economic times, the government's priority should be to make the tendering process for public sector contracts easier for small businesses. The Glover Review recognised that it is already difficult for small firms to access to the £160 billion of public sector contracts that are on offer each year. There is a danger that these measures will make it even more difficult for small firms to access these contracts.
2.3 We strongly oppose the idea of representative actions in employment tribunals. Representative actions will undermine the key feature of the tribunal system: that it is low cost and it is easy for both the employer and employee to represent themselves.
2.4 There is a risk that the proposal for positive action will complicate an already complex area of employment law and confuse employers and employees alike. We do not believe that the supposed benefits will be worth this added confusion as it is unlikely that SMEs will use this law. This is for two reasons; firstly, because positive action may only be taken if two candidates are equally qualified and it is improbable that this situation will arise. Secondly, because an SME could use another reason for hiring or not hiring a potential employee which is less 'risky' in terms of legal action.
How could procurement be made a more effective lever for equality outcomes?
3.1 We question the premise that procurement should be a lever for equality outcomes. However, it is important that whatever method is made to do this it does not further disadvantage small firms in the procurement process. The Glover review highlighted the difficulties small firms already face and now that many capital projects have been brought forward to help the economy out of recession, it is even more important that small firms can access these contracts. Large firms are going to find it easier to find the time to fill in extra paperwork and find the resources to prove that they are fulfilling the equality requirements. The focus on procurement should be on helping small firms access more public contracts and we are concerned this could represent a significant barrier to achieving the 30% target proposed in the Glover Review.
Is an Equality Duty on the Private Sector workable?
4.1 Laws preventing discrimination in the workplace already operate in the private sector as well as the public sector. Employers cannot discriminate either in the recruitment process or during employment on the grounds of race, religion, gender, age, disability or sexual orientation. Employers want to hire and retain the best staff and when discrimination does occur, the tribunal system is set up to allow employees' access to justice relatively cheaply and easily.
4.2 A further equality duty along the lines of the one the Bill places on the public sector would not be workable. According to Framework for a Fairer Future, "the duty will require public bodies to consider how their policies, programmes and services affect different disadvantaged groups in the community," and we do not believe this remit should apply in the private sector. Most employers want to create a culture of acceptance and diversity and we believe the government can better support this through guidance rather than legislative action.
What is the role of the Equality and Human Rights Commission within the Single Equality Act?
5.1 We are concerned that the Bill provides for representative actions within the tribunal process; with the assumption being the EHRC and the Trade Unions would be able to bring claims. We strongly oppose this proposal and think it will undermine the tribunal service which aims to allow employers and employees alike to cheaply access justice and represent themselves.