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UNISON sees the introduction of public sector equality duty 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 advance equality of opportunity. This consists of a general equality duty, with three main aims
- Address disadvantage linked to protected characteristic
- Meeting characteristic specific needs
- Encourage representation from under-represented groups
In Scotland the general duty is supplemented by the Scottish Specific Duties.
What are the Scottish Specific Duties ?
In May 2012 the Scottish Government introduced the Scottish Specific Duties (SSD) designed to assist Scottish Public Authorities in meeting their equality duties.
The SSD require Scottish Public Authorities to:
- report progress on mainstreaming the equality duty
- publish equality outcomes and report progress
- assess and review policies and practices
- gather and use employee information
- publish gender pay gap information
- publish statements on equal pay
- consider award criteria and conditions in relation to public procurement
What is the Public Sector Duty 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 duty is 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.
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 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 equality duties.
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 protected characterisitics equality of existing policies and practices as well as future developments, and publish the results.
It is crucial that assessments are carried out at the start of any process.
An equality impact assessment will ensure that there is no 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 included.
The Guidance can be accessed on www.unison.org.uk/equality/equalityduties
The guide from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) will also be of use.
Page updated: 11 March 2015
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