By Shaun Noble
Swingeing cuts to the funding to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which will decimate services to some of the most disadvantaged in the UK, has prompted two trade unions to ballot their members for industrial action.
Unite and the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union announced on September 15 that they were holding industrial action ballots of their members at the EHRC.
The Unite ballot, opposing the restructuring of the organisation, is for industrial action short of a strike and/or strike action. It is due to open on Thursday, September 22 and close on Thursday, October 13.
The unions are urging the government to reverse cuts of 25 per cent to the EHRC in the wake of a 50 per cent increase in hate crimes since the Brexit vote.
The unions warn that the latest round of cuts will lead to less support for victims of discrimination and undermine the ability of the EHRC to effectively challenge discrimination and hate crime at a time when it is on the rise.
The 25 per cent cut over the next four years will lead to fewer caseworkers supporting victims of discrimination and the closure of the commission’s offices in Birmingham, Edinburgh, Leeds and Newcastle.
The crisis facing the EHRC has prompted Jack Dromey, MP for Birmingham, Erdington to write to the EHRC’s chair David Isaac urging him ‘to think again’.
“I want to express my deep concern that the Commission has now agreed a 25% cut to its budget over the period of the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) with the intention of frontloading these cuts and threatening staff with compulsory redundancies,” Dromey wrote.
“This will result in a shocking number of job losses and leave the Commission with less funds and people than the Commission for Racial Equality in 2006.”
“The impact of these cuts will be felt particularly by victims of discrimination or human rights abuses who don’t qualify for legal aid, can’t afford tribunal fees, aren’t a member of a trade union, and whose local law centre or CAB has closed,” he added.
“It is shameful that ministers are stripping those without power of the ability to challenge the powerful when they are victims of discrimination or the denial of human rights.”
Unite national officer for the not for profit sector Siobhan Endean said, “Having already faced massive cuts of 70 per cent since 2010, resulting in the loss of its specialist helpline and closure of its conciliation service and grants programme, the EHRC now faces losing its United Nations ‘A’ status as a national human rights institution because of a lack of funding.
“The call to reverse the cuts is part of a joint Unite and PCS campaign to save the EHRC, with both unions urging the public to contact their MP,” she added.
“The industrial action ballot should be a ‘wake-up’ call to the EHRC management and government ministers that staff are determined to save the commission from the decimating cuts to jobs and frontline services. The EHRC staff are not an add-on in the fight for equalities and human rights, but integral to it.
“The commission should give a minimum guarantee of no compulsory redundancies and call on the government to stop cutting the EHRC out of existence.”