Equality duties: an introduction
Equality duties deal with eight areas: gender; pregnancy and maternity; disability; race; sexual orientation; gender reassignment; age; religion or belief.
The main aim of this legislation is to eliminate unlawful discrimination and promote equal opportunities.
Public-sector bodies are required “to have due regard” to the need to eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct prohibited by the Equality Act 2010. This also applies to the protected characteristics of marriage and civil partnerships, as well as to the other eight areas listed above.
In Northern Ireland, duties in relation to not discriminating on such grounds are addressed in individual pieces of legislation.
There are slightly different equality duties enshrined in the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (as amended). Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 places a statutory obligation on public authorities in carrying out their various functions relating to Northern Ireland, to have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity:
- between persons of different religious belief, political opinion, racial group, age, marital status or sexual orientation;
- between men and women generally;
- between persons with a disability and persons without;
- between persons with dependants and persons without.
In addition, public authorities are also required to have regard to the desirability of promoting good relations between persons of different religious belief, political opinion, and racial groups.
The statutory obligations are implemented through equality schemes, approved by the Equality Commission, and by screening and carrying out equality impact assessments on policies.
In Northern Ireland, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 requires public authorities, when carrying out their functions, to have due regard to the need to:
- promote positive attitudes towards people with disabilities;
- encourage the participation of people with disabilities in public life.
Employers who are public authorities must actively encourage equality in the workplace.
This legislation applies to public authorities and bodies who are not public authorities but who “exercise public functions”; though only in respect of those public functions.
An example: gender equality duty in practice
If a public authority wants to increase the number of women working in a particular district, it should actively encourage women into the workplace.
There may be reasons why an area has fewer female workers. This may be due to security issues on public transport, for example.
In this case, the public authority should give women an equal chance of working in the roles. This could involve tackling the public transport security issues, which could be done by supplying safer transport to work or by allowing more flexible working hours.
Where do equality duties apply?
Equality duties apply to public sector employers, but can apply to private sector employers in some cases.
To find out if your employer is required to fulfil equality duties, get in touch with your local UNISON rep.
What if you’re not being treated equally?
Next steps for UNISON reps
A good deal of inequality in the workplace stems from poor access to training. As a UNISON rep, make sure that you’re actively seeking to improve access to training.
- Equality duties apply to race, gender, pregnancy and maternity, disability, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, age and religion and belief.
- Equality duties also apply to private sector companies who exercise public functions, but only in respect of the exercise of those public functions.
- The law in Northern Ireland is slightly different to that in England, Wales and Scotland.