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Equality Bill

Part of the debate – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:31 am on 9th June 2009.

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Sarah Veale: Do you want me to start? That is one of the TUC’s propositions, although I am obviously very interested to hear what everyone else thinks. We put it forward because, particularly with the large multiple cases and specifically on equal pay, the current system does not allow you to group together very efficiently the common points of law that exist across a grade of staff against whom you are alleging indirect gender pay discrimination. The joy of representative actions would be that an organisation such as a trade union, or maybe a citizens advice bureau, could be given a locus to identify the key legal issues and run a representative test case, if you like, to which all the individual women would have to sign up.

Our view is that that would enormously expedite litigation. At the moment, we have cases where women make a submission and, after it has gone through the various appellate stages, it is not finally resolved for 11 or 12 years. One of our unions told us that, tragically, one or two of the women they represented died before receiving the benefits of the compensation that they were owed. Clearly, anything that expedites the process would be enormously helpful, so we have put that forward. We are grateful to the Ministry of Justice for looking into the issue and seeing what might be done.

I emphasise for the record that we are not talking about class actions. We are not talking about allowing members of the public to sign up willy-nilly to any cause that they might think affects them. The case would be specifically marshalled, and the locus would be given only to groups such as trade unions and perhaps the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which could do it expeditiously and curtail it, and not expose employers to wildcat litigation. We firmly recommend it—certainly to be looked at—as a means of helping the process work more efficiently and much more cheaply.