The Times

March 13 2000

Men are new victims says equality chief

BY FRANCES GIBB, LEGAL EDITOR
The Times

MEN are the new victims of sex discrimination and radical reforms to the equality laws must be made to enable them to achieve the same rights as women, according to the head of the Equal Opportunities Commission.

Julie Mellor, 43, who chairs the EOC, the Government's equality watchdog, said the equality laws, brought in 25 years ago to help women fight discrimination, were failing men, who also wanted a better balance between home and work. Ms Mellor said that British men "work the longest hours and are the most unhappy and stressed out" in Europe.

"Men look at what women have achieved and they would like the same thing - more part-time work, more flexible hours," she said. "But the long-hours culture prevents them even thinking about it."

Ms Mellor called for changes to the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975, which was geared to helping women, in that they could often bring claims of "indirect" discrimination and men could not. "Women can often argue that a policy or practice, say on part-time workers, indirectly discriminates against women because they make up the bulk of part-timers. Men can't argue that."

Men, while often resentful about the tribunal awards made to women for discrimination or sexual harassment, were still reluctant to complain about perceived discrimination. "We don't have them queuing at the door." Yet nearly one in five initial inquiries to the Commission now came from men, often over jobs that had gone to women.

In the 12 months to April 1999, 963 inquiries, or 17 per cent of the total 5,677, were from men. They covered a range of issues, from jobs to pay and pensions.

Alan Lakin, the EOC legal adviser, said: "As men adapt to their role in sharing the responsibilities of caring for children, they are starting to make more inquiries. But it remains harder for them to use the current laws."

In an interview with The Times to coincide with the end of her first year in office, Ms Mellor, a mother of two, also criticised the Government for failing to do more to promote real equality between the sexes. She welcomed initiatives such as its national child care strategy and minimum wage but said that the Government had not considered the importance of men and women's "caring" role in all aspects of its policies.

The Government's draft directive on part-time working would benefit only one in 60,000 workers, she said, because it was so tightly drawn. The proposals were "limited, inconsisent with consisting laws, and contrary to the EU part-time working directive".

The Government needed to remove the definition of "employee" from its directive, and thus include casual and self-employed workers, Ms Mellor said. Unveiling a strategy for the Commission to promote equality between the sexes, she called on the Government to do much more to help both sexes achieve a work-life balance. "We need equality for women and for men - particularly for men, because we won't have real equality until men are able to take on their caring responsibilities."

Women still lagged badly behind in the pay stakes (the gap in average earnings is 20 per cent) but they had made strides, Ms Mellor said. "We have not arrived at any nirvana, but people can see there has been real measurable progress."

Now it was men's turn: "I have always said that the last chapter in the book on feminism should be written by men."

Copyright 2000, Times Newspapers Ltd.