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Equality law has developed at a rapid pace in the last decade, with laws on sexual orientation, religion or belief and age discrimination taking effect and positive duties being placed on public authorities to take equality into account in all that they do.

The Equality Act 2010 – a landmark piece of legislation for which the TUC had long campaigned – has given us a unified legal framework and introduced some important new measures to advance equality. It is important that trade unionists understand and know how to use this Act, as well as related rights in other employment legislation, to help working parents and carers, and that is what this guide is aimed at achieving.

Trade unions represent an increasingly diverse membership and they will use the law as well as their collective strength to tackle discrimination and fight for equality in the workplace. Trade unions regularly represent in tribunals individuals who have suffered discrimination (for example, the tens of thousands of claims that have been lodged in the fight for equal pay), but they will also use the law to help achieve resolution of problems in the workplace and as an aid to negotiating policies to prevent discrimination and achieve equality without recourse to costly and stressful legal battles.

As the TUC Equality Audit 2009 found, improvements in equality law and family-friendly rights made it easier for trade unions to press employers to adopt good equal opportunities practice. And it raised the bar in terms of what was achievable, with family-friendly policies in unionised workplaces continuing to exceed the statutory floor, despite the significant improvements in the minimum legal rights for parents and carers. The TUC Equality Audit 2011, which focused on trade unions’ efforts to ensure equality and fair representation within their structures and services to members, showed that unions recognise their own obligations under the Equality Act 2010 and the need for action to meet them.
In these difficult economic times, trade unions must do their utmost to ensure that the progress made on equality and building good relations between different groups is not reversed. Familiarity with the law and understanding the core rights is part of that.

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