Current Affairs

Workplace discrimination not robust enough, claims campaigner

Tony Grew April 3, 2007
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Research into discrimination at work has found that there have been few claims on the basis of sexual orientation against health and education employers.

The Sexual Orientation and Religion and Belief regulations came into force in December 2003.

The study by Acas, the employment relations service, into how they are working in practice was launched yesterday at the Tate Modern by Trevor Philips.

Mr Philips is chair of the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights.

The report analysed claims of discrimination presented to employment tribunals between 2004 and 2006.

470 individuals brought claims during that period where the main allegation concerned discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

The report found that 70% of claims were against private sector employers, and two-thirds of the claims were brought by men.

In a quarter of sexual orientation discrimination cases, the claim was withdrawn and in around half a settlement was reached before the tribunal.

90% of those who settled got a monetary compensation, but it was on average only £2,750.

“The 2003 legislation, while clearly welcome, needs a lot of shifting and changing,” said LGBT activist Sue Sanders.

“What the research did not tell us is was what happened at the tribunals. We have evidence that the people on tribunal panels are sometimes homophobic, and that their understanding of the issues is sometimes poor to say the least.”

Even if a claimant wins a tribunal, the employer is not expected to take the employee back or to change the culture of the organisation.

The study found that the criminal justice system had the highest percentage of cases in the public sector, 33%, with health and education at 9% and 11% respectively.

“I think the big thing is the fact that the criminal justice figure is quite high – they done much training and support LGBT networks,” said Ms Sanders, who is co-chair of Schools OUT, an organisation that has been working towards LGBT equality in education for over 30 years.

“Furthermore, it has raised the expectations that LGB people have for the same rights in the work place as everyone else and will offer them an appropriate service when they are involved with the system.

“Conversely, the low numbers in education, as we know from our experience, are no reflection of everything being fine, far from it.

“I think that is because very little has been done in teaching, the work has not been done.

“In educational institutions homophobia is so well documented and so pervasive, that the workers in the field do not even feel empowered to complain.”

Schools OUT want the CEHR to strengthen their role so that employers are forced to change the culture and processes that feed discrimination in all the diversity strands.

They also demanded changes to the grievance procedure, which often makes the claimant’s actual or alleged sexual orientation public knowledge.

In a case where the discriminator denies everything there was an impasse.

In other cases there was clear malpractice, such as where the alleged discriminator was the investigator into the claim.

The CEHR will be responsible for enforcing the Equality Act which guarantees freedom from discrimination in the provision of goods and services regardless of sexual orientation.

It will inherit the responsibilities of the existing equality commissions, the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), the Disability Rights Commission and the Equal Opportunities Commission.

The body will also have responsibilities on rights in relation to age, sexual orientation, religion and belief, and will ensure that Unions and organisations such as the Citizen Advice Bureau have the correct training and information to advise people on these rights.

Read the full ACAS report here

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