Friday, 1 October 2010

A dark day for equality

This morning, BBC Breakfast gleefully reported that Harriet Harman's Equality Act has come into force.

They ran a segment on a woman who felt that the law firm she worked for had treated her unfairly, because they didn't grant her flexible working arrangements to care for her disabled son. Even under the old laws, The European Court of Justice (the highest court in our land) ruled that she'd been discriminated against. The new Equality Act will apparently make it much easier for such cases to be brought.

Even without knowing all the details, it is clear that a gross injustice was committed ... against her employer. It might not be her fault that she has a disabled son, but it's certainly not her employer's fault. What matters to them is that she does her work. If she's a great worker, it may be in their interests to giver her flexible working arrangements, irrespective of her personal situation. Or it may be that she's just an average worker, in which case she shouldn't expect equal pay for unequal work (her employer clearly judged that her caring duties impacted her performance). Perhaps she was a terrible worker, insubordinate and unpleasant. Can we know? Who should decide?

If her employer was being genuinely discriminatory — if, given flexible working arrangements, she would still have been the best person for the job at the salary she was paid — then surely it would be her employer's loss. A more enlightened law firm would be able to out-compete her employer by tapping into talent such as hers. Indeed, a group of 'disadvantaged' people could club together and start their own law firm. If the only thing holding them back was discrimination, we'd expect their venture to be a massive success.

Fundamentally, nobody has a right to work, only the right to seek it. There are two parties to an employment contract, and neither hand should be forced. This isn't the first time the government has interfered with the voluntary relationships between employers and employees, but their diktats are increasingly bold.

If I were an employer, I'd be very wary of hiring under these conditions. I would need to consider not just the basic salary and NI expenses, but also the risk that one of my employees would turn to the Equality Act as a defence against under-performance. If I faced a decision between hiring and capital expenditure (more machines, computers, and software), my choice would be skewed towards the latter. Whatever work couldn't be automated, I'd seriously consider outsourcing to India. There are millions there who would be grateful for the opportunity; do the socialists think it is right to deprive them of it? That would surely be racist.

As usual, a superficially noble government intervention turns out to be deeply immoral in principle, and counterproductive in practice.

All citizens should be equal before the law. In the Britain Harriet Harman has crafted, some people (those in New Labour's favoured groups) are more equal than others.


  1. What worries me about this Act is that all of the coverage has been in terms of work, race and sex. I agree with you that it puts huge burdens on employers that are unreasonable but it also has a sneaky set of clauses about "harassing" people about their beliefs, including the beliefs that underpin a person's politics. Politics and religion are now banned from the workplace and indeed, from any public place.
    Equality Act 2010 - read it and be afraid

  2. Thanks for the link, John. It's even worse than I'd realised!