Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
In politics, there is a classical confusion between processes and results. The UK Independence Party (UKIP) have proposed the abolition of anti-discrimination laws, arguing the “ludicrous” status quo prevents an employer’s preference for British-born workers. Nigel Farage, UKIP leader, said:
I would argue that the law does need changing, and that if an employer wishes to choose, or you can use the word ‘discriminate’ if you want to, but wishes to choose to employ a British-born person, they should be allowed to do so… I think you should be able to choose on the basis of nationality, yes. I do.
This is not a new announcement: Mr Farage made similar calls back in September 2014.
Currently, anti-discrimination legislation is codified in the Equality Act 2010. This Act prohibits direct, associative, perceptive and indirect discrimination on the basis of the protected characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, marital or civil partnership status, race, religious belief, sex, and sexual orientation. Direct discrimination refers to deliberate acts of unfavourable treatment towards a person with a protected characteristic. In 2011, as an example of direct discrimination, a gay Bristol couple won their case against the B&B owners who refused them a shared bed.
Perceptive discrimination refers to acts built upon a perceived possession of a protected characteristic, even if the person does not fit the perception. Associative discrimination outlaws direct discrimination against someone for associating with people holding protected characteristics. Indirect discrimination represents real disadvantages against a group, even if the practice is seemingly uniform. Discrimination against combinations of these protected characteristics is also prohibited.
Mr Farage clarified that he was only referring to laws prohibiting employer discrimination on the basis of nationality. Repealing this legislation would allow companies to draw exclusively from the national labour force. Presumably, it would also mean employers could discriminate against British-born workers too. Their policy conflates the process — erasing these laws — with the intended result — the promotion of a particular kind of discriminatory practice. This is incongruous with other UKIP statements, which proffered that British workers are already being treated unfairly in the labour market.
It is difficult to deduce from inter-group differences which employment disparities are caused by labour market discrimination and which are caused by other iniquities.
For instance, efficacious education is not evenly provided throughout demographic segments, and these groups are not similarly aged.
Discrimination on irrelevant factors, such as race and nationality, should be regarded as irrational and immoral. The question remains, regardless of its unpopularity, whether these practices should be illegal.
Direct discrimination on these protected characteristics is difficult to separate from various variables which affect employment. Racist or sexist employers can easily camouflage their prejudices: it would be a rare occurrence for a boss to use a derogatory epithet whilst rejecting a potential worker. Given the social ostracism around discriminatory behaviours, these laws are principally symbolic.
It is a question of what is prime: the freedom to trade, or refuse trade, between individuals and groups; or a proscribed sense of equality across society.