Equal opportunities on social partners' agenda

Late 1997 and early 1998 have seen a number of reports confirming persistent problems of sex and race inequality in the UK. Concern over such issues has led to a new initiative intended to raise awareness of the problem among both employers and employees.

At the end of December 1997, the Institute of Personnel and Development (IPD) - the professional body for personnel managers - launched its Management of equality awards. These will be awarded annually by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) and the Employers' Forum on Disability (EFD) to students taking IPD qualifications who come up with creative solutions to the problems of equal opportunities.

The persistent problems over equal opportunities which form the context for the IPD initiative were further highlighted by a number of reports published in January 1998. For example, according to a survey by the London Chamber of Commerce and the University of Westminster, women have taken more than two-thirds of professional jobs created between 1981 and 1996 but despite this they were being paid 20% less than men.

According to the Banking, Insurance and Finance Union (BIFU), earnings inequalities in the finance sector are increasing between men and women: women earn on average 73% of men's average weekly earnings across all industries, but in finance the figure as just 54%, according to the 1997 New earnings survey. Furthermore, Public bodies (the annual audit of civil service organisations) found that women are heavily out numbered by men on these bodies: the Scottish Office had the best record, with 43% of posts taken by women, but that this was an exception - which was embarrassing for ministers and senior officials charged with dealing with inequality.

Civil service departments were also being criticised for racial inequality by the Association of First Division Civil Servants (FDA), the union representing senior public servants. In a new Charter, the FDA is urging the Government to make senior officials responsible for achieving racial equality, following growing concern at the lack of career opportunities for black and Asian staff.

Concern was also expressed by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) when it released its report entitled Pride not prejudice on 15 December 1997. Despite educational qualifications on a par with white counterparts, the survey highlights the following problems faced by black people;

  • black people at work continue to be under-represented in higher-paying employment and over-represented in low-paying industries;
  • in the same or similar jobs, black workers are earning less; and
  • 25% of young black people remain unemployed, compared with only 12% of white people.

The CRE and EOC are supporting both the FDA Charter and the IPD initiative. Herman Ouseley, chair of the CRE, and Kamlesh Bahl, chair of the the EOC, were both impressed by the quality of the participants for this years IPD award and were both hoping that it would encourage students who will be the human resources practitioners of the future.

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