The Equality Bill: Not Before Time

The struggle for equality is something that women have faced throughout the centuries. In the early 20th century, for example, the suffragettes undertook the task of protesting in order that the British Government would give women the right to vote. Some feminists even burned their bras in protest during the 1960s in a bid to end repression and to gain the same rights that men have had through the centuries. Equality is a battle that is still ongoing for women, in particular in the case of equal pay and employment opportunities.

It seems to be the common misconception that women should be paid less than men even if they are doing the same job. Of course, this is mainly due to the fact that many women will have children to raise and a home to run; requiring considerable lengths of time off work, often only returning to part-time positions when their children are at school, or full time work once they have flown the nest. For many employers it seems that this is justification enough to pay women less than men. Is this a solid enough reason for women to be paid at a lower rate? For many employers the answer is yes, but in this modern world, where race, age and religion are not accepted as reasons to discriminate, then neither should the sex of a person or their choice to have children.

Thankfully, a new bill is being passed through the House of Commons. Known as the Equality Bill (2009), it intends to address two main areas, which include sex discrimination as well as race, religion, disability and age. Firstly, it intends to tighten and amalgamate all the possible discriminations that people face through an easy and understandable Statute – a “one for all”, if you like. At the moment there are many loopholes in the current legislation which allow employers to still discriminate against employees or potential employees. It is the intention that, by pulling together all the separate and complicated legislation that has existed in our judicial system for the last 40 years or so, this will make it easier for employees and employers to recognise when and where these laws exist and how they can prevent any miscarriages of justice, as well as ensuring equality all round.

The second area that the Equality Bill (2009) will address is the intention to strengthen the legislation so that those who feel they are being discriminated against will have more power to do something about it. The current status means that there are small victories here and there for those women who feel that they have been unjustly treated in the workplace. We all know that discrimination against women, including the gap in pay, is very much alive even in this day and age. How many times have you heard that a woman has won a court case against her employer because she has been paid less than a male colleague doing the same role in the workplace? Exactly! This issue has been left to fester, and now the British Government is trying to make substantial changes to ensure that the gap between the wages and salaries of women and men is slowly decreased.

The Equality Bill (2009) is intended to be in force from autumn 2010. Although it will take a while for everything to fall into place, it is hoped that the new legislation will be fully effective and operational by 2013. With the current rate of difference between men’s and women’s salaries at an astonishing 22%, it is hoped that the legislation, which asks employers in the private and public sector to publish a report on their pay gaps between the genders, will be able to help close this gap. Of course, it may take the private sector longer to get its head around the simpler legislation – but employers no longer have the excuse that the legislation is too hard and complicated to follow, and it will have to be implemented no matter what.