The government has finally come out with its Equality Bill, bringing together (and hopefully improving on) nine seperate pieces of legislation and 100 other measures.

Harriet Harman’s proposals on how to close the pay gap seem to be getting the most attention:

Firms which employ more than 250 people will be given a choice: sign up to a voluntary scheme, which involves disclosing the average pay of men and women, or submit to mandatory equal pay audits, the Guardian reports. Harman said the measures could help companies pulling themselves out of the recession:

“The economies of the future that will prosper are the ones which are not blinkered, held back by old-fashioned hierarchies, by a sense of women knowing their place, by overlooking the talents and abilities of people on the basis of the colour of their skin,” she told reporters.

“When times are difficult, actually fairness is at a premium and it does not cost anything to be fair. We don’t see this as anti-competitiveness – it actually underpins competitiveness. Equality and opportunity underpins a meritocracy. This does not hold business back, this helps business.”

What does the CBI say? This:

“Companies that have too few women in higher paid roles, and are trying to attract more, could be forced to publish a statistic that would deter female applicants and compound the problem.

“Consider a technology firm with engineers that are paid more, and support staff who generally earn less. At the moment most engineers are men, even though engineering firms are trying to attract more female engineers. The average pay statistic could easily be taken out of context and undermine recruitment initiatives by deterring female applicants.

Erm, yeah. Women might be put off working for firms with a demonstrable pay gap, so we should pretend the pay gap doesn’t exist? Because that makes sense, and the best way to attract more women and move away from employing men largely for better paid jobs and women largely for worse-paid jobs is clearly to never under any circumstances admit you have a problem!

Pay audits are obviously a better way to do this, because they get down into the nitty gritty, and don’t produce one bald figure on the internal pay gap in a particular employer. And, of course, they mean that individuals who are being paid unfairly might actually see that problem addressed. But, still.

Of course, the Equality Bill is a lot broader than equal pay… This report outlines the full range of actions it proposes and why, and the press release is also worth looking at, but this is the short version:

The Equality Bill will strengthen our equality law by:

1. Introducing a new public sector duty to consider reducing socio-economic inequalities;

2. Putting a new Equality Duty on public bodies;

3. Using public procurement to improve equality;

4. Banning age discrimination outside the workplace;

5. Introducing gender pay reports;

6. Extending the scope to use positive action;

7. Strengthening the powers of employment tribunals;

8. Protecting carers from discrimination;

9. Offering new mothers stronger protection when breastfeeding;

10. Banning discrimination in private clubs; and

11. Strengthening protection from discrimination for disabled people.

The Bill also includes proposals addressing multiple discrimination.

A seperate discussion document has been released on this provision, and the government is seeking responses including from individuals who experience multiple discrimination. The document outlines and recognises how the law is currently failing, for example, someone who was experiencing racist sexism:

We want the law to provide appropriate protection against the harmful discrimination people experience. Currently, the law does not always provide a remedy for an individual who experiences multiple discrimination. In these circumstances, the person experiencing multiple discrimination has to bring separate claims in respect of each protected characteristic, such as his or her race or sex. However, this can cause problems in practice because it can be difficult, complicated and sometimes even impossible, to prove such claims. Moreover, they do not reflect the discrimination which actually occurred.

For example, a black woman passed over for promotion by her employer because she is a black woman would have to bring separate claims of discrimination because of race and sex. However, she may not succeed in either claim if her employer can show that black men and white women are not discriminated against and therefore her treatment was not because of race or sex alone.

Helen has also posted about the parts of the Equality Bill which benefit trans people.

You can read the whole Bill here