Women's rights - one step forward two steps back

Women's rights - one step forward, two steps back

International Women’s Day is a time to celebrate the advances in equality at work. But the backward steps arising from government policy demonstrate how much there is still to do and why women workers need their unions.  

In the last two years the law has changed so that it is easier and cheaper to sack employees. The introduction of fees to bring a tribunal claim has also made it harder to enforce rights.

New rules which will come into effect from April will make it more difficult to bring claims under the Equality Act.

Women workers, who are often in lower paid and less secure employment, have been particularly affected by reductions in rights at work:

  • the increase in the qualifying period for unfair dismissal hits women with shorter periods of employment
  • the repeal of employer liability for third party harassment puts women more at risk of harassment by customers and clients at work
  • the introduction of fees for employment tribunal cases creates a barrier to justice. With discrimination claims being in the higher fee bracket of £1,200, women and others protected by the Equality Act are particularly disadvantaged.

Equality questions to be abolished

From 6 April 2014 the questions procedure under the Equality Act will be abolished making it more difficult to bring claims of discrimination at work.

The questions procedure has been a key part of discrimination legislation since the mid '70s. It is a vital process to help workers gain information about the reasons for their treatment and to challenge discriminatory procedures in the workplace. Prospect has found it to be an invaluable tool to fight inequality at work.

The current statutory questionnaires are admissible in tribunal proceedings. Tribunals can draw adverse inferences of discriminatory conduct if an employer fails to reply or does so evasively. Once these are abolished, ACAS guidance offers a new way of asking questions, but this will not have the weight of the statutory procedure.

Marion Scovell, Prospect's legal officer, said: 'Women and their unions have fought for decades to improve rights at work but the government's policies are weakening much of that hard won progress.

"Prospect will continue to challenge employers on unfair and discriminatory practices and will be there to ensure women can challenge inequality".