The Politics of Equality: The Evolving Nature of Equality Agendas at Work in the UK and Europe in a Context of Political Uncertainty

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Alliance Manchester Business School

Abstract

There has been significant progress in a range of European countries on the question of equality at work. In the case of the UK, the legislation of the 1970s, and the ongoing development and regulation of equality-related rights at work since then, have been extensive. A range of issues exists in terms of how different groups have been supported in relation to their rights at work, but the engagement with individual rights on questions of gender, race and disability, for example, has been significant. The European Union has also seen a major commitment to the question of ensuring that equality legislation and policies are enacted in member states. Employers and related organizations, such as trade unions, have seen a push towards new forms of equality and diversity strategies. The project aims to discover how this engagement with the question of equality at work, broadly speaking, has varied. In broad terms, how has that 'project' varied? What is the focus of the interest in equality, and what have been the imperatives for change?

The project, therefore, aims to understand how the UK, the Netherlands, France and Spain have engaged with the notion of equality within work in terms of its language, practice and institutional sustainability. In some cases, the emphasis has been on gender equality; in others, it has focused on a wider range of groups. Using interviews with a strong biographical element, we aim to build a detailed insight into how equality is understood and constructed. Are there any common reference points or imperatives for change? In addition, the project seeks to outline and explain within the four countries studied - as examples of what could be called 'good practice', generally speaking - the challenges that have emerged in terms of sustaining the commitment to equality. In the UK, there has been a general concern with the complexity of equality and tensions within and between groups - gender and some LGTB issues, for example. In Spain, migration has emerged as an issue within xenophobic political discourse after a period of relatively effective social inclusion measures. In France and the Netherlands, the question of Islamophobia has been unsettling specific understandings of equality at work. We need to know how the nature of commitment to the question of equality contributes to the issues that have been emerging - or are such issues the outcome of deeper structural challenges, or extensive political developments. The question of equality at work has been a focus for disruptive political discourse: how are these changes are impacting, and why? We also need to understand how managers, trade unions, and social organizations related to these issues have responded to these challenges and sustained the general - albeit varied and uneven - commitment to expanding equality at work not only in their organizations, but also more generally. The project aims to interview a range of managers, trade unionists, and policy actors within the four countries studied. It also aims to create a dialogue through its publications and events linked to the question regarding how the equality agenda can be sustained, or even deepened, in the face of the political and economic disruption since the 2008 global financial crisis. The future of equality policies and institutions at work - which have been tied to other EU cases in various perspectives - needs to put in the frame of reference of national contexts that face similar challenges and developments. This policy and practitioner dimension of the project is an important feature of what we aim to do as we work alongside our academic objectives and publications.

Publications

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