UK’s Equality Watchdog Deems Junior Doctors’ Contract ‘Potentially Discriminatory’

Junior doctors have been provided with a crumb of comfort in their ongoing battle with the government over proposed contractual conditions.

Supporting the position of junior doctors, the UK’s equality watchdog has written to the UN to express concerns that the proposed junior doctors’ contract is “potentially discriminatory”.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission raised the issue in its April submission to the UN on equality in the UK.

This will be seen as a major boost to junior doctors, and raises the possibility that the government will ultimately be unable to impose the contractual conditions as has been threatened.

The submission made by the Equality and Human Rights Commission Includes the following text:

“The Equality and Human Rights Commission is concerned that the UK Government’s analysis suggests an adverse impact of the contract on groups that disproportionately include women, such as those who take time away from work for maternity leave and caring responsibilities. This would indicate that women junior doctors will have inferior conditions of work under the new contract, which would be inconsistent with Article 7 ICESCR, unless it can be justified.”

A spokesperson for the Equality and Human Rights Commission indicated that the contractual terms put forward by the Department of Health are potentially discriminatory, and that the department could face a legal battle in order to prove its case.

In a statement, the Department of Health predictably opposed this argument, indicating that it is confident about its legal position under the terms of the contract.

“Under this contract, for the first time all doctors will get equal pay for equal work, rather than being paid for time served, to create a genuinely level playing field for men and women. What’s more, we have fully considered the Equality Act under the Secretary of State’s duties and the BMA’s own lawyers have advised that there is nothing unlawful in the new contract, which was 90 per cent agreed with them anyway.”

Junior doctors continue to fight what they consider to be both unfair and dangerous contractual provisions which have been proposed by the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

In particular, the reclassification of weekend hours as standard service has been particularly controversial, with reports suggesting that some junior doctors could lose as much as 30% of their existing salary.

The British Medical Association has indicated that there are still many options on the table for junior doctors following the unprecedented industrial action which took place last week.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt described the strike as a “very, very bleak day for the NHS” but insists that the conditions outlined in the new contract are fair and reasonable.

With two legal challenges having already been made against the contract, it increasingly seems that the issue may be decided in the courts.

 

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