A recent press release issued by the Government Equalities Office dampened speculation that the coalition Government might delay implementing Labour’s flagship Equality Act 2010. Despite this, Audrey Williams, partner and head of discrimination law at international law firm Eversheds, questions whether the press release tells the full story:
“It is clear from the GEO statement that, like the Labour Government before it, the coalition does not intend to bring the entire Act into effect in one go. What is less apparent is which parts of the Act will be delayed beyond 1 October and for how long those provisions will remain in suspension.
“Guidance published today on the GEO’s website does give us some clues. The concept of dual discrimination, the extension of public sector equality duties and rules prohibiting age discrimination by service providers are all seemingly on hold for now. There are no real surprises there: even under the Labour government there were no plans to bring these aspects of the Act into force as early as October this year. But whereas the previous government did have in mind a clear timetable for implementation over the next two years, the coalition refuses to be drawn on when, if ever, these parts of the Act will be implemented.
“It is also interesting that today’s guidance makes no mention the Act’s controversial provision that would allow employers to select from equally qualified job applicants by reference to their sex, race or some other protected characteristic to address under representation. The Conservatives voiced concerns about this clause during parliamentary debates and indicated, pre-election, that they would avoid implementing it should they come to power. Under Labour’s timetable this new form of ‘positive action’ would be permitted from October this year but it would come as no surprise to learn that the coalition has decided that it should be held back.”