UK Race Equality Week 2024: Labour's Proposed Shake-up of Discrimination Laws

Earlier this month, in the midst of Race Equality Week in the UK, the Labour party announced that they propose to make significant changes to discrimination laws if they win the next general election. What is Labour proposing and how much of a shake-up might this be? 

A new Race Equality Act?

The wording of the act hasn’t been published to date but several press publications (found here and here) have indicated that the Labour party are proposing to:

  • Extend the protections to equal pay under the Equality Act 2010 beyond sex, to allow equal pay claims on the basis of ethnicity as well as disability.
  • Require large employers to publish ethnicity and disability pay gap reports. Currently, mandatory pay gap reporting obligations in the UK are limited to just the gender pay gap.
  • Introduce the concept of “dual discrimination,” whereby workers would have the right to make discrimination claims on the basis of having two protected characteristics. For example, in the case of an older woman, rather than needing to bring two separate claims alleging discrimination on the basis of each protected characteristic (age and sex), the individual could bring one claim alleging dual discrimination.

How much of a shake-up would this be?

  • Equal Pay: While an extension of the current equal pay protections to cover ethnicity sounds ground-breaking, it may be less so in practice.  Currently, the reality is that if an employee feels they have been paid unfairly because of their race they can bring a claim for race discrimination. Conversely, extending equal pay protection to ethnicity would not be straightforward. The current equal pay laws are notoriously complex and there are a number of hoops and legal tests that claimants must satisfy in order to be successful. For example, in determining who is the right comparator and whether jobs are of “equal value.”
  • Ethnicity Pay Gap Reporting: There is significant evidence that ethnicity pay gaps remain an issue (see here and here). Making ethnicity pay gap reporting mandatory would be a significant change but the devil will be in the detail as this is far more complex than reporting gender pay gaps. For example, it remains to be seen which ethnic groups will be included and how they will be meaningfully defined.
  • Dual Discrimination: Assuming this is limited to two protected characteristics, it is not necessarily clear that this would widen existing protections. To take one example, older women have already successfully brought claims for menopause under existing law.

These proposals are in addition to the raft of other employment law reforms that Labour are proposing to introduce if they win the next election – summarised here

While we will need to wait until the general election to see whether these proposals come into fruition and how they will be implemented, Labour has said that they will consult about the proposed extension to equal pay claims before implementing any changes and that any changes will be “phased in” to provide employers with adequate time to adjust.

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.