“In what major ways has British legislation attempted to pursue social fairness in employment over the past years?”
The idea of social fairness and equality in employment has become a primary concern over the past few years, and has led to legislation designed to promote it. The recent expansion of UK employment law has intensified the duties of human resource managers, hiring managers and executives, reminding them of fairness and equality in employment practices. Fairness at work arguably goes hand in hand with good job performance; handling discrimination effectively helps to motivate, attract and retain staff and build a solid reputation for any organisation, which also has to comply with the law, of course. A complete elimination of work place discrimination in a 21st century organisation will, in theory at least, help every single employee to have an equal opportunity to work and develop new skills. It is, therefore, in an effort to encourage work place ethics and transparency, that the legislation is increasingly investing its efforts to guarantee fairness and justice in employment practices across the UK.
This Paper examines the various regulations laid down in British legislation over the years to encourage fairness in employment practices.
BRITISH LEGISLATION AND FAIRNESS IN EMPLOYMENT
British legislation has been emphasising the importance of fairness in employment practices for several decades, ever since laws such as The Equal Pay Act (1975) and various Race Relations Acts since the 1970s. Especially with the ageing workforce, the understanding and elimination of discriminatory practices in employment is of prime importance to a fair and stable British society. In 2006, a research finding on how British employees are treated by their employers was published by the UK department of trade and industry. Around 1.7 million of all employees reported that they have received unfair treatment of some sort in the past two years (Parker, 2007), though one must always be wary of people’s ‘perceptions’ and instead focus on real evidence. Nevertheless, this is a reminder to government that existing legislation may not be enough to create a fair working environment for all British employees.
There are many pieces of legislations that combine to make up UK employment law. Specifically, there are laws relating to disability, race, sex or marital status, nationality or ethnic origin and sexual orientation, the latter from 2005, and many of these had to be introduced to comply with EU law. These pieces of legislation focus on issues such as fairness in staff recruitment, training opportunities, access to benefits or facilities at work and promotion. A society with no legally enforceable employment conditions will therefore give a golden opportunity to ruthless employers to exploit and treat employees unfairly.
In 2006, parliament passed The Equality Act which made several provisions including provisions on human rights, racial equality, disability, discrimination on grounds of belief, and sexual orientation. This, alongside the Employment Equality Act of 1998, 2004 and 2008, has been instrumental in regulating and enhancing fairness in employment practices across the UK. Specifically, the Employment Equality Acts of 2004 and 2008 address issues that are to do with sexual orientation, race, belief, pay structure and recruitment of employees. In the case of Chagger V Abbey National PLC & Hopkins (2006), the court ordered Abbey Santander Banking Group to pay a record breaking compensation of 2.8 million to a certain Balbinder Chagger to cover his loss after establishing a firm judgement that the employee was racially discriminated against and unfairly dismissed (king, 2009). Balbinder Chagger, who is an immigrant from China, worked as the trading risk controller for Abbey Santander Banking Group in UK before his unfair dismissal. Such eye-wateringly large judgements, however, may inadvertently encourage employers not to employ those from minorities and women, just in case accusations of unfairness follow.
Another important legislation adopted by the British government to enhance fairness in employment practices in the UK is the Disability Discrimination Act (2005). This act protects the rights of disabled people and states that they should have as fair treatment as any other person irrespective of their condition. Under this Act, discrimination occurs when a person with a disability is treated unfairly by another person, treated in relation to the fact that the person is disabled, or treated in a manner that cannot be justified. This Act has been instrumental in fostering fair treatment of disabled people in employment. The first successful disability discrimination case was brought up by Alexander Pauline against a north London recruitment agency known as Sales Link Services. Alexander claimed that the recruitment firm violated the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act (2005) by failing to recruit her on grounds that she is deaf. The employment tribunal ruled in her favour and she was awarded a £5,000 in compensation plus legal fees against Sales Link Services (Furner, 2008).
The next regulation passed by the British government to encourage fairness in employment practices in UK is The Employment Equality (Age) Regulation.
This regulation became law in 2006 which makes it illegal to discriminate against employees or job seekers on the grounds of age – meaning, for example, that advertised jobs cannot state an ideal candidate’s age or use words such as ‘young’. There is substantial evidence of discrimination when employers use age as a justifiable reason to dismiss, employ, demote and force employees to go on retirement before the default age of 65.
Smith, (2008) argues that discrimination is counter productive and leads to a work environment where a job satisfaction is low and turnover greater. It is therefore a call on today’s employers to remove all age related criteria from their job advertisements as a means to encourage fairness and equal opportunity in line with the Employment Equality (Age) Regulation (though employers who recruit without advertising can discriminate in any way they like – for example, the fact that seemingly the entire working population in Indian restaurants in Asian and male does not break any law if these jobs have not been advertised). The main reason for eradicating discrimination against the old is because British society is undergoing a demographic revolution that will need to utilise the skills, energy and experience of the older generation and blend it with the new generation to remain competitive (Grengross, 2004); in future, there will be more British people over the age of 50 than under it.
The Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulation (2003) is also another effort by the law to bring about fairness in employment. The regulation came into existence in December 2003 and refers to harassment on grounds of religious orientation or beliefs in employment. This regulation defends the rights of employees who have beliefs as well as those who have no religious belief, and was considerably watered down from its original form which would even have banned people from making jokes about religion. The regulation also covers matters relating to recruitment, dismissal, pay, transfer and promotion. Under this Regulation, employees have the right to channel a complaint to the country court or employment tribunal as long as there is evidence that their employer has acted unfairly and breached this regulation.
As an effort to bring about fairness in employment practices in UK, The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation Regulation (2003)) came into force in December 2003 prohibiting victimisation on the grounds of sexual orientation in work places. The regulation actually protects people from discrimination based on their sexual orientation such as bisexuals, lesbians, gays, in the workplace. This act has prompted most large employers to consider if their policies respect the sexual orientation of individual employees and maintain a high level of confidentiality with them. Organisations are keen to welcome employees of all sexual orientations (and races etc) and respect their dignity in line with published guidance, partly because if they do not they will be missing out on a huge pool of talent: it makes business sense, ultimately, to attract and retain the best employees.
The equal pay act (1970) came into existence in the UK to prohibit any unfair treatment in terms of working conditions and pay between men and women in employment. Presently, the gender pay gap stands at 17.1% – although this figure has been criticised for being utterly spurious because it just takes the average of all earnings by men and women and takes no account of women working part time more, or men getting into management more, or women being less experienced because of time taken off for having children and bringing them up; indeed, many would argue there is actually no gender pay gap at all, and men and women are paid the same if they have the same qualifications and experience. This may well be a case of ‘lies, damned lies and statistics’, and sly use of averages of selective readings, and perhaps the only way to equalise this figure would be to actually pay men less for the same job of work, but nevertheless, The Queen’s speech (written by the government) referred to bringing about a fair balance. “My Government will bring forward a Bill to promote equality, fight discrimination and introduce transparency in the workplace to help address the difference in pay between men and women”, Queen’s Speech, 3 December 2008. (BBC News, 2009)
Other Legislations such as the Race Relation Act (1970), Gender Recognition Act (2004) and Sex discrimination Act (1975) have all contributed substantially to bring about fairness in employment in UK over the years. These laws have educated and encouraged employers not to discriminate during recruitment and employment because of race, disability, age, gender, sexuality or religious belief; if they do, they may be legally liable to pay compensation, of course.
An important law that has also played a key role in enhancing fairness in UK employment practice is the minimum Wage Act (1999). This Act regulates wages for employees in the UK and gives the minimum wage that an employer can pay his employees.
The Working Time Regulation (1998) is also another key regulation that proves the efforts of the British legislation in ensuring fairness in employment. This regulation sets a time limit of 48 working hours a week, how much rest employees are entitled to and set an annual holiday.
Finally, there are also some laws which cover adoption rights, maternity and paternity leave. These includes: Statutory Paternity Pay (General) Regulations (2002), Flexible Working (Eligibility complaints and Remedies) Regulations (2002) and Maternity and Paternity Leave Regulation (1999).
In summary, it is evident from the above analysis that British legislation has been working extremely hard to create a balance and fair working environment for employees. This analysis has used Parliamentary Acts and case law to support the view that the British legislation has substantially attempted to pursue social fairness in employment practices over recent years.
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BBC News (2009) http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/womanshour/02/2009_17_mon.shtml (Date Accessed, 19/10/09)
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GREENGROSS, S (2004) Why Ageism Must be Eradicated http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/4041713.stm (Date Accessed, 20/10/09).
KING, S (2009) Government Influence over Employment Practice illustrated with Emilio Botin Abbey Santander banking http://www.goarticles.com/cgi-bin/showa.cgi?C=2047909 (Date Accessed 20/10/09).
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PARKER, J (2007) Unfair Treatment and Discrimination at Work http://www.eurofound.europa.eu/ewco/2007/01/UK0701029I.htm (Date Accessed 19/10/09)
SMITH, T.S (2008) Employment Equality (Age) Regulation Law. (2008) http://diversity.monster.co.uk/10378_en-GB_p1.asp (Date Accessed, 18/10/09)
The Equal Pay Act 1970 (Amendment) Regulations 2003 http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2003/20031656.htm (Date Accessed, 20/10/09)
The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2006/20061031.htm (Date Accessed, 19/10/09)
The Employment Equality (Religion and Belief) Regulations 2003 http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2003/20031660.htm (Date Accessed, 20/10/09)
The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2003/20031661.htm (Date Accessed, 20/10/09)
National Minimum Wage http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/nmw/ (Date Accessed, 21/10/09)
The Race Relation Act 1976 (Amendment) Regulations 2003 http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2003/20031626.htm (Date Accessed, 19/10/09)