Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Employment Law: Kerron Cross to be Replaced by Woman?

Many years ago I worked in personnel for a large local government organisation. As the Principal Officer running the internal recruitment advertising agency that serviced 18 departments, 100s of schools and other devolved employers, and also policed and pimped what has become known, to some, as the Chinese Period* of that organisation's Equal Opportunities and Anti Racism drive.

We spent a very large sum of money each year advertising, not only in the Guardian and the Manchester Evening News but also in some 140 different specialist publications. Some for the professions, others to reach applicants from under-represented groups and, probably more significantly and effectively, to signify the Council's intentions in terms of both employment and service delivery. Our recruitment advertising was a very important part of our public relations effort.

As well as being responsible for preventing any illegal discrimination under the Race Relations Act and the Sex Discrimination Act, and their many amendments and updates, we would guide departments who needed to understand what these Acts allowed in terms of what's called Positive Action.

For example an employing department or devolved establishment could quite legally set up a training scheme which recruited from one or more under-represented groups. That would be quite legal. So long as there was no certainty or inevitability of employment when the training was done. Which requirement would have formed a useful "break" and arguably be good practice anyhow.

There is the exemption of "authenticity". Had the council being running a playboy club we would have been able to recruit only women as "bunnies". Beardy weirdies from Watford need not apply. We were not and we did not. And if we'd had a Chinese restaurant we could have sought out Chinese chefs, waiters and maitre ds. We were not and we did not.

And there is also the exemption of necessity. We did provide services specifically for men and specifically for women where recruiting men and women respectively was essential for the proper running of those services.

We had the old arguments about employing city residents versus non-city residents. I wouldn't say this was ever satisfactorily sorted, and is at best controversial. But even before any jobs were advertised for "residents only" we massively increased the use of our own Jobs Update and also local Job Centres, where previous practice would have put virtually every job in the regional MEN at least.

We guaranteed disabled people who met the parts of the person specification testable from written applications an interview. And we did our best to make sure that those responsible for job analysis and determining person specifications and job descriptions not only understood the law, and the potential for indirect discrimination, but also properly understood the Council's recruitment and selection policies.

There was a point in time when some managers, certainly in one of the most significant strategic employing departments, believed that there was a Council rule that actually required positive discrimination rather than positive action.

I might go as far as to say that it suited the Head of the Equal Opportunities Unit for her colleagues to believe that. Or perhaps it was just one of those little misunderstandings. But I can think of at least one disaster that ensued from this "misunderstanding". Took years to get rid of the appointed (and very bloody useless and troublesome) candidate/appointee.

Anyways, I am just dumping my head into the keyboard. I do have a pertinent point to make. That is: Cllr Kerron Cross does not know what he's talking about.

Young Kezzer, while welcoming the generality of the Equality measures brought forward by Harrie, is really getting quite stuck on his own "Clause 4" moment. Here's how he starts:

The new Bill will:

1) Introduce a groundbreaking new law to help narrow the gap between rich and poor.


2) Shine a light on the hidden pay unfairness against women at work.

Shine a light, how very evangelical, but still good.

3) End the last lawful discrimination which is against older people.

OK, was the example I heard you give on things like insurance? I will come back to this.

4) Allow employers – if they want to – to make their workforce more diverse by choosing for example a woman or black person who was equally suitable for the job.

Erm. Positive discrimination, you mean?

Erm, no actually. This provision, should it be passed into law, and I jolly well hope that it is, will simply replace the toss of a coin in the event of a dead heat between several "winning" candidates with a concession, not a requirement, that employers may choose the person that contributes more to balancing their workforce, or if you like addressing stored up inequalities.

This might be employing a man as a school cook. Employing a woman, at last!, as a Building Surveyor (random occupation, not). Employing a black person in a public facing job where all the current team are white, but 30% of the public faced are black.

This concession - in what will be an extremely rare case of absolute congruency for most appointments - simply replaces a ballot, a toss of a coin, who tweets back first, some other irrelevancy as a way of breaking a tie. This does not add ten points to the score of candidates from under-represented groups at the get go. It just provides a smidge of a point at the end of the process if and only if the candidates cannot be divided on any other meaningful and relevant criterion.

This is an opportunity for non-compulsory Positive Action for an employer to help meet their strategic objectives. This is not Positive Discrimination.

* Wrong, Richard, very wrong. It worked. It worked very well. Don't knock it.

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