The Spectator

Equality is unfair

The transfer of call centre operations to India shows that equality is unfair

On Monday the Employment Equality Regulations 2003 came into force, making it an offence, subject to an unlimited fine, for employers to discriminate against their staff on the basis of their religious belief or sexual orientation. On Tuesday the Norwich Union announced that it was cutting 2,300 call-centre jobs in Britain and moving them to India. If the link between the two events isn’t immediately obvious, one is a cause, the other an effect of the increasingly high cost of employing people in Britain.

For a discussion of the merits of these regulations, it is no use thumbing through back issues of Hansard. Parliament is no longer considered a proper place to discuss a measure which will have a huge impact on businesses in this country. While snivelling backbench MPs are invited to spend their time debating a motion to congratulate the England rugby team, the Employment Equality Regulations have been introduced quietly as a ‘statutory instrument’, which does not require a vote in the House of Commons. The government’s justification for this is that the regulations merely enforce the European Employment Directive, agreed in 2000.

In any case, the deputy minister for women and equality Jacqui Smith appears to say, what could there possibly be to debate when the regulations are so obviously beneficial for everybody? Unfair discrimination, she writes in a press statement, ‘is damaging for business as they [sic] deny access to the widest pool of talent. A diverse workforce brings benefits ‘ such as increased motivation, lower turnover of staff, and access to wider markets.’ If there are such obvious economic benefits in having more gays and Muslims on the staff, why the need for legislation? It is a conceit of this government that its Whitehall-bound ministers somehow have access to insights into business unseen by real businessmen.

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