Staff of equality watchdog set to strike over cuts


Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) staff are set to stage a one-hour walkout over drastic cuts to the organisation’s budget, after voting in favour of strike action.

The strike by members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCSU) is set to take place within the next few weeks.

The EHRC’s budget for 2010/11 appears to have been cut from about £62 million to £53 million, and is set to fall to £45 million in 2011/12.

Reports suggest it will be slashed to just £22.5 million by 2015, although the EHRC has described this figure as “completely speculative”.

The union said such cuts – which could see a reduction in staff from 416 posts to just 200 – would mean employers and public bodies no longer being held to account over discriminatory policies, and would “effectively end the commission’s legal work”.

The PCSU believes the cuts would leave the commission with just a third of the combined staff of the three equality bodies it replaced in 2007 – the Disability Rights Commission, the Commission for Racial Equality and the Equal Opportunities Commission.

In a ballot of the 314 PCSU members at the EHRC, more than 77 per cent voted to strike on a turnout of about 50 per cent.

The union said it wanted EHRC chair Trevor Phillips to reveal his future plans for the commission, and to define the EHRC’s “core functions” he claims will be protected.

A PCSU spokesman said the strike would also send a signal to the government over the cuts, and pressure the EHRC’s commissioners to lobby the government for more funding.

Last month, the Government Equalities Office (GEO) launched a consultation on “radical” plans to reduce the EHRC’s duties and responsibilities.

Among its reforms, the GEO wants to stop funding the EHRC’s grants programme, and commission the private or voluntary sector to take over responsibility for its national helpline.

Mark Serwotka, the union’s general secretary, said: “Our members are experts in their fields and this strike vote shows they are prepared to fight to maintain a proper national equality and human rights body at a time when government cuts are making it more likely people will face discrimination and disadvantage.

“We do not accept the need for these cuts and the commission should talk to us urgently about the alternatives which would end the need for a strike and protect the vital services our members provide.”

The EHRC declined to comment on the strike vote.

14 April 2011