Outrage as trade unionist “sacked” from EHRC board

Sarah Veale, former Head of Equality and Employment Rights at the TUC

Sarah Veale, former Head of Equality and Employment Rights at the TUC
Sarah Veale, former Head of Equality and Employment Rights at the TUC

The trade unionist on the board of the Equality and Human Rights Commission has been “sacked” after the intervention of the Minister of Women and Equalities Justine Greening.

Sarah Veale, the TUC’s former Head of Equality and Employment Rights, joined the Commission in January 2013 and was set to be re-appointed this year at the request of EHRC chair David Isaac, who said he was “very impressed” with her contribution.

But despite receiving a letter from Greening, praising her at some length for her work on the Commission, Sarah was informed her term had expired and she would not be reappointed.

This leaves no trade unionist on the Commission for the first time.

Sarah Veale said: “There was no reason given for not appointing me. Could it be political? It is hard so see any other reason and it follows a spate of similar decisions. If so, it is not good for our democracy and, if continues, means that public bodies will lose important knowledge and experience and, essentially, the authentic voice of working people.”

The EHRC is the UK body that has responsibility for overseeing the law as it relates to unlawful discrimination and human rights. It advises the government and others, for example employers, on how the law works and what organisations and individuals should do to avoid unlawful discrimination and promote diversity and inclusion.

It has legal powers to intervene in court proceedings and to set up formal inquiries if it has evidence that there is systemic discrimination occurring. For example, the EHRC recently intervened in support of UNISON in their successful court case to abolish fees for Employment Tribunals; it also conducted an investigation into discrimination against migrant workers in the meat processing industry.

Sarah Veale said: “My particular contributions to the EHRC have included direct involvement in the important statutory role that the Commission has to monitor the various UN conventions and treaties, to which the UK is a signatory, and to produce reports on how and whether the UK government has fulfilled its obligations.

“These relate to the treatment of disabled, BAME and LGBT people and to women, as well as human rights obligations. The Commission has been critical of some of the current and past governments’ failures, for example, as a result of their austerity programme.

“I have also been involved in the very successful investigation into discrimination against pregnant women at work and ensured that the TUC and unions were directly involved too.

“Although Board members are not able to become involved directly in employment matters within the Commission, throughout the recent dispute between the Commission and the recognised unions I did keep in contact with the unions and ensured that their concerns were heard on the Board.

The EHRC is governed by a Board of Commissioners, who are publicly recruited and appointed. Until recently that process was carried out with independent scrutiny but recently that changed, giving ministers far more control over the process and enabling them to override the recommendations of the recruitment panel.

The Commissioners currently comprise: a partner at a law firm, a former director of HR at BT, a diplomat and prison governor, a business consultant, a former fire chief, a law professor, a consultant psychiatrist and a Tory peer.

The Government Equalities Office is currently recruiting new members. Sarah Veale hopes “some trade unionists will apply and not be blocked by politicians”.

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