Members of the PCS civil service workers’ union at the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) are fighting plans to cut 50 jobs from its public helpline and close the Manchester helpline altogether.
The plan was kept secret from the union until a 90-day statutory notice of formal redundancy consultation was served on 12 February.
At angry union meetings at every EHRC site – in Manchester, London, Birmingham, Cardiff and Glasgow – PCS members agreed to ballot immediately for strike action if one redundancy is announced. A public campaign against the plans has already been launched.
Helpline workers are the lowest paid in EHRC, but they provide an essential public service, advising people of their rights if they are suffering from discrimination.
Calls to the helpline have increased during the recession, particularly from workers facing redundancy because they are on maternity leave, are disabled, black or have caring responsibilities.
The helpline workers, employed to offer advice to ensure people are not unfairly forced out of their jobs, now face being thrown on the scrapheap themselves.
Labour ministers Harriet Harman and James Purnell recently announced that women and minorities are the most disadvantaged groups during this recession and should get additional support and advice.
But this rings hollow when a government-funded body is cutting workers trained to provide that advice.
EHRC chair Trevor Phillips has regularly downplayed the extent of institutional racism and scaremongered over multiculturalism. The EHRC has said that employers should not be forced to carry out equal pay audits.
EHRC booses have refused to advertise its public helpline. Voluntary advice bodies are already struggling to cope with increased demand as the recession bites, employment tribunal claims are rocketing.
There is no legal aid available at employment tribunals.
But while the EHRC produces a pamphlet for small businesses on how to follow the “right processes” when making staff redundant, it is cutting nearly half of the workers who advise the public of their rights.