Equality staff strike over cuts that will wind back discrimination clock 40 years

by - 23rd February 2012, 7.45 GMT

Equality staff are today on strike against cuts that risk winding the clock back four decades and abandoning people who face discrimination and prejudice.

Members of PCS and Unite working at the Equality and Human Right Commission (EHRC) are fighting cuts to budgets and staff that will mean up to 250 of the commission’s 400 experienced workers face redundancy, while highly paid management consultants are retained. This is fewer staff than the Equal Opportunities Commission – one of three bodies that merged to form the EHRC – employed to tackle sex discrimination alone.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “These cuts would wind the clock back 40 years to a time before some forms of discrimination were outlawed.

“If people facing discrimination and hatred in our society do not know their rights, or have support from the EHRC in enforcing them, then equality legislation will not be worth the paper it is written on.”

Although only PCS members are on strike, Unite members will be protesting alongside them.

Unite regional officer Di Scott-Brown said: ‘The EHRC is collaborating with the coalition by pushing forward with these cuts which will have the effect of dismantling the progress in equality and human rights that this country has made in recent decades.’

“Our members feel that they have been fobbed off by the management whenever they have come up with constructive proposals to ameliorate the financial situation facing the organisation.

“The level of cuts to staff have yet to become clear, but we understand that the EHRC wants a workforce of 150-180, down from a total of 475.”

The cuts spell the end of free advice and legal support for people facing discrimination in society and at work, and an end to grants for community groups. The commission’s helpline faces privatisation, with the loss of years of experience and knowledge.

PCS says the commission’s chair Trevor Phillips and its 13 other commissioners are going further than the Tory-led government’s imposed cuts, proposing a new structure in advance of ministers publishing their plans for the EHRC, and appear to want to strip the agency of almost all of its public service functions.

The half day strike tomorrow morning follows a series of walkouts last summer, suspended to allow talks to be held with senior managers which have proved fruitless.

There will be picket lines outside the EHRC’s main offices in Birmingham, Cardiff, Glasgow, Manchester and London from 8.30am.

The Birmingham office is threatened with closure – with the loss of 40 jobs – as are smaller sites in Bangor, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Guildford, Leeds and Newcastle. Offices in Bristol and Nottingham have already been shut. The plans would also mean around 20 job cuts in Cardiff and Glasgow, 80 in London and 100 in Manchester.