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UNISON sees the introduction of public sector equality duties
as a step towards a society where diversity is accepted as normal
and equality as a benefit to everyone. The equality duties place
a legal responsibility on public authorities, requiring them to
have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination.
These duties require employers to have equality schemes in place
and to ensure the active promotion of equality of opportunity
What are the positive equality duties about?
Progress on tackling discrimination has been slow over the years
and has often led to individual legal remedies that do not tackle
underlying problems. The public sector equality duties are a fundamental
change to this. Public authorities are now legally obliged to
positively promote equality rather than solely taking steps to
prevent discrimination. They have to increase equality for service
users and staff, and monitor and review progress to ensure they
are delivering results. UNISON sees this as a step towards a society
where diversity is accepted as normal, and equality as a benefit
to everyone. The first public sector duty was introduced in the
Race Relations (Amendment) Act in 2002. The Disability Duty came
into force in December 2006, and the Gender Duty in April 2007.
UNISON does not believe any one type of discrimination is worse
than another, and these principles should also be applied to sexual
orientation, age, and religion and belief.
Why are the duties an issue for UNISON?
UNISON is at the forefront of campaigning for equalities in the
workplace and in local communities. Supporting equality not only
shows solidarity with people facing discrimination, but demonstrates
the collective strength of a union to achieve results and inspire
members, potential members, and activists to participate. Because
the new duties require big changes from employers, branches cannot
afford not to be involved. They are an opportunity for lead branch
officers, branch equality officers, activists and members to work
together to strengthen branch organisation. Employers must be
held to account if they are not delivering equality for our members.
How can UNISON prevent services being privatised?
Public authorities must ensure that their procurement
policies and practices comply with the equality duties. UNISON
branch officers and stewards need to get involved with the detail
of procurement processes to ensure compliance with the equality
duties. In Northern Ireland, a number of attempts to privatise
services have been stopped by UNISON’s reference to the
How are the equality duties relevant to any proposed
local government cuts?
It is up to the individual council, in consultation with stakeholders
and trade unions to select priorities for action. Organisations
should take a careful, evidence-based approach to developing objectives.
This means that local authorities will have to assess the impact
on gender equality of existing policies and practices as well
as future developments, and publish the results.
A gender impact assessment will ensure that there is no gender
bias in any redundancy procedure. If it does then the redundancy
strategy will have to be reviewed. UNISON has produced an equality
duties guidance pack. This pack covers issues relating to individual
equality strands; specific service groups; devolved nations; contracting
(privatisation), and Union Learning Representatives.
A certain amount of jargon is contained in the duties, so there
is a 'Jargon Buster' and references to the individual codes of
practice issued by equality bodies and other resources are also
The Guidance can be accessed on www.unison.org.uk/equality/equalityduties
Page updated: 5 February 2010
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