South East Wales

Staff strike at Equality and Human Rights Commission

Staff at the Equality and Human Rights Commission have staged a one-hour strike in several cities in protest over cuts.

Members of the Public and Commercial Services Union have walked out in a dispute over cuts.

The first one-hour stoppage was at the main offices in Cardiff, Birmingham, Glasgow, London and Manchester, with another planned for next Wednesday.

The commission called the union's demands "unrealistic".

The commission plans to more than halve its staff from 460 to 200 within 12 months, with many of those remaining being consultants or on short term contracts - after budget cuts of 68%.

The government has announced it is withdrawing funding for the EHRC's helpline and grants programme and the commission has moved forward its plans to close its regional offices.

The union called on EHRC chair Trevor Phillips to reveal his plans for the future of the organisation, challenging him to define the "core functions" which he claims will be protected.

In a ballot of the union's 314 members in EHRC, more than 77% voted to strike on a turnout of 48%.

According to the union, plans to cut the commission's budget down to £22.5 million by 2015 - from £70 million when it was formed in 2007 - would mean employers and public authorities would no longer be held to account if they carried out discriminatory policies.

'Difficult decisions'

It claims these cuts would also effectively end the commission's legal work, which recently helped ensure six million carers in Britain are protected against discrimination in employment.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "These are dedicated staff, experts in their fields, and this strike action shows how determined they are to maintain proper, quality services to the public.

"This work is particularly important at a time when government cuts are making it more likely people will face discrimination and disadvantage, and we urge the commission to talk to us about the alternatives."

A spokesperson for the Equality and Human Rights Commission said: "The commission has been in extensive consultation with the PCS for months on issues arising from our own reform programme, which is shaping the commission to be effective for the future, as well as a government-imposed budget cutback and consultation on our powers and duties.

"We regret that the union has decided to withdraw from this process after issuing a list of unrealistic demands which the commission simply cannot meet. The entire public sector is having to take difficult decisions and we cannot give untenable guarantees to staff here."

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