Timeline key

Major equality and diversity legislation, incl. labour legislation in the UK


Industrial action by South Asian women in the UK


Major UK Immigration Acts


British Nationality Act
This Act provided for a new status of Citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies (CUKC), consisting of all those British subjects who had a close relationship (either through birth or descent) with the United Kingdom and its remaining colonies, and guaranteed free right of entry to British subjects and Commonwealth citizens.

Commonwealth Immigrants Act
Prior to this legislation, all Commonwealth citizens could enter and stay in the United Kingdom without any restriction. Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies (CUKCs) whose passports were not directly issued by the United Kingdom Government (i.e. passports issued by the Governor of a colony or by the Commander of a British protectorate) now became subject to immigration control, with the exception of those with passports issued at a British High Commission in an independent Commonwealth country or British Consulate, who remained free from immigration control. The 1962 Act also increased the residence period for Commonwealth citizens (and British subjects and Irish citizens) applying for registration as Citizens of the UK and Colonies from one year to five years, and employment vouchers were now required to gain entry into the UK.

Race Relations Act
Makes it illegal to refuse housing, employment or public services to people because of their ethnic background.

Commonwealth Immigrants Act
This Act widened the control to include persons who were citizens of the UK and Colonies either by birth in a colony or by registration in a Commonwealth country before it became independent. This Act sharpened the distinction between citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies (CUKCs) who had close ties with the United Kingdom and were free to enter, and those citizens who had no such ties and were therefore subject to immigration control. Particularly in the newly independent Commonwealth countries of East Africa, the result was that there were now citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies who had the right of residence nowhere.

The Equal Pay Act
Prohibits any less favourable treatment between men and women in terms of pay and conditions of employment, and came into force on 29 December 1975.

Immigration Act
Provides for the control of immigration into the United Kingdom of people of all nationalities, for the making of deportation orders and the rights of appeal against immigration decisions, and excludes certain categories of its nationals from the right of abode. This Act creates the concept of patriality or right of abode whereby CUKCs and other Commonwealth citizens had the right of abode in the UK only if they, their husband (if female), their parents, or their grandparents were connected to the United Kingdom and Islands. This placed the UK in the rare position of denying some of its nationals entry into their country of nationality.

Imperial Typewriters, Leicester
About 400 mostly East African Asian women workers went on strike against pay differentials between white and Asian workers. The strikers met with indifference from the local officials of their union, the TGWU, and hostility from the management and many white workers, also bolstered by the National Front. The strike, which lasted for three months received wide support from the South Asian community but was not successful.

Kenilworth Components, Leicester
Following a successful industrial action by the South Asian women, the company retaliated by announcing a 3–day working week for the Asian workers, while the white workers continued to work five days a week. Despite considerable community support, the union negotiated an agreement workers were selectively re–engaged on different terms and conditions.

The Sex Discrimination Act (SDA)
Makes it unlawful to discriminate on grounds of sex or marital status in recruitment, promotion and training, except in cases of genuine occupational requirements.

The Race Relations Act
Makes it unlawful to discriminate, directly or indirectly, on grounds of race, colour, nationality or ethnic or national origin in recruitment, promotion and training. The Act covers direct discrimination, indirect discrimination and victimization.

Grunwick, London
The 1976–78 dispute at this photo–processing laboratories at Brent, North London, started over poor conditions, compulsory over–time and a heavy–handed management and later centred on the right to join a trade union. Despite widespread support by anti–racist organisations and feminist groups and mass secondary picketing by a range of trade unions, the strike was ultimately lost. It has become constructed as an iconic moment in the history of the labour movement: the moment when the trade unions recognised the rights of women and minority workers as equal to those of white working class men.

Chix Factory, Slough
The successful strike by workers at the Chix confectionery factory in Slough [best known for making bubble gum] for recognition of their union, the General and Municipal Workers Union lasted from October 1979–June 1980.

Futters, Harlesden (1979)
South Asian women took to the streets outside a Harlesden factory, Futters, a family owned light engineering firm that was only a couple of miles from Grunwick. The women, members of the AEUW union, went on strike against low wages, poor working conditions, inadequate toilet facilities and victimisation of union activists.

Employment Act
Includes provisions to restrict secondary picketing, and to introduce ballots on the existence of the closed shop where it operated, needing 80% support of the workers to be maintained.

Employment Act
Includes provisions to restrict ‘closed shops’ with high (85%) ballots, reduces dismissal compensation, outlaws all forms of secondary picketing, limits the definition of a legal strike and allows employers to sack all strikers who fall outside this definition. But the really crucial step is to make trade unions legally liable to pay damages from strikes (‘limited’ to £250,000 for each offence).

Supreme Quilting, Smethwick
In 1982, 300 mainly South Asian women machinists went on strike in protest at the sacking of two men and over low wages at the Supreme Quilting clothing factory in Smethwick, West Midlands. After a prolonged dispute, they went back to work after promises of union recognition. The two men remained sacked.

Equal Pay Act (Amended)
Amends the 1970 Equal Pay Act and allows an individual to claim pay equal to that received by members of the opposite sex on the grounds that they are doing like work, work rated as equivalent under a job evaluation scheme, or work of equal value – in terms of demands made under such headings as effort, skill and decision–making.

Britain’s Limited, London
About 200 mainly South Asian workers, members of TGWU, went on strike at this toy manufacturers’ demanding equal pay for women workers. The management refused to negotiate and unable to hold out, the workers returned to work after three months with none of their demands met.

Trade Union Act
Among other things, compels all unions, on pain of loss of their immunities, to hold secret ballots of individual members before calling on them to take industrial action.

Immigration (Carriers’ Liability) Act
This Act provides for a charge of £1000 to be levied on the owners or agents of a ship or aircraft where a passenger requiring leave to enter the UK arrives without valid travel documentation/ visa. This legislation seriously undermines the substantive right of refugees to claim asylum.

Employment Act
Included provisions to give rights and resources to dissident individual members and for postal ballots for elections of union executive and decisions on political funds.

Immigration Act
The main effect of this Act is to end the exemption of certain Commonwealth citizens from the need to meet the marriage tests and the maintenance and accommodation requirements when bringing their families into the UK for settlement.

The Employment Act
Makes it unlawful to refuse employment, or any service of an employment agency, on grounds related to trade union membership, and amends the law relating to industrial action and ballots – it holds trade unions financially responsible for walk–outs and unofficial action where it is taken to have been authorised or endorsed by the union unless they publicly disown a dispute.

Burnsall, Smethwick
Burnsall was a metal finishing company in Smethwick, Birmingham. 19 “mostly South Asian women” walked out demanding union recognition, equal pay and basic health and safety and were subsequently sacked for going on strike. There were several disagreements between the union, GMB, and the strikers about the form and nature of the strike action, with the strikers increasingly resisting the union’s attempts to take control of the strike action. Though the women had had strong community support, the strike was eventually called off after a year by the GMB, who decided it was unwinnable.

Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act
This Act, which came into force on 26 July 1993, provides for new rights of appeal for asylum applicants refused asylum; strict time limits on all stages of processing asylum cases; and a swifter procedure for dealing with ‘manifestly unfounded’ cases. This Act also abolishes the right of appeal for people from other countries wishing to visit UK as a tourist, to visit a relative, a prospective student, or those seeking to extend their duration of stay beyond the maximum period permitted should their application for a visa be refused.

Disability Discrimination Act
This act which came into effect on 2nd Dec 1996, makes it unlawful to discriminate, directly or indirectly, on grounds of disability and also places a duty on an employer to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to premises or working practices to allow a disabled person to be employed. The definition of disability is wide and includes physical disabilities, sensory disabilities (visual or hearing impairment), learning difficulties, mental health problems as well as progressive conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis and Aids.

Hillingdon Hospital, London
Following outsourcing of services at Hillingdon Hospital, Pall Mall Cleaning decided reduce the pay of the cleaners. Fifty–five mainly South Asian women members of UNISON refused to sign the new employment contract and went on strike at which they were sacked. After five years of struggle, the strikers won when an employment tribunal ruled that they should receive compensation and be reinstated.

Asylum and Immigration Act
This Act mainly widens the scope of the accelerated appeals procedure in asylum cases, outlines various punitive measures targeted at immigration offenders and those abetting them and for restricts accommodation and welfare provisions for asylum applicants, and provisions to remove them from the UK. This Act makes it a criminal offence for an employer to employ anyone subject to immigration control, and punishable with fines of up to £5000. Employers must ask new employees taken on or re–employed after that date for evidence of residential status, such as national insurance documents and EU passports; this request must be made in a manner which does not breach racial discrimination legislation. This Act also makes provisions for returning asylum seekers to other ‘third’ countries even if they have merely transited through this country on their way to their destination, and effectively removes the right of appeal against decisions to return asylum–seekers to these ‘safe third countries’.

Lufthansa Skychef Catering Company, London
Following a break–down in negotiations on flexible working practices, 270 TGWU members went on an official one–day strike, when Lufthansa Skychef sacked them a few hours into their strike. Britain’s longest industrial dispute at 17 months ended when Lufthansa offered to reinstate the workers or pay compensation to them, the day before the introduction of new legislation under which the sackings would be illegal.

Employment Relations Act
Includes provisions whereby unions can claim recognition for collective bargaining from any business with more than 20 employees. Where unions can show that they already have 10 per cent membership in a workplace, there can then be a ballot for union recognition, which will be granted if at least 40 per cent of all those eligible to vote, vote in favour. The Act also allows workers to receive at least 3 months unpaid leave for the purpose of caring for a child. Mothers can have up to 18 weeks paid maternity leave.

Immigration and Asylum Act
This Act replaces mainstream welfare benefits entitlement for asylum applicants. It created the National Asylum Support Service (NASS) to provide basic support – vouchers worth £35 a week for an adult – and accommodation on the basis of forced dispersal policy.

Race Relations Amendment Act (RRAA)
Outlaws discrimination whether direct or indirect and victimization in public authorities not covered by the 1976 Act and provides remedies. It also places a statutory obligation on all public bodies to develop a race equality policy and action plan, not only to eliminate race inequality but to proactively promote equality between different racial groups, to assess the impact of all its policies on people from different racial groups, and to ensure staff training and monitor progress.

Fixed–term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations
This act, which came into effect on 1st October 2002, gives fixed term employees several rights including the right not to be treated less favourably than comparable permanent employees, a right to qualify for statutory redundancy payment if they have been employed for the necessary period, and provides that a fixed term contract that is renewed or extended will become permanent automatically after 4 continuous years starting from 10th July 2002, unless the fixed–term contract can be justified for good business reasons.

Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act
This Act creates a ‘white list’ of ‘safe countries’ whose citizens cannot remain in the UK while they mount an appeal once their asylum applications are rejected. It also denies asylum seekers’ support unless they make their claim “as soon as reasonably practicable” after their arrival in the UK – at a port or airport – and they can explain how they reached the UK. This Act provides for the creation of a new network of induction centres and accommodation centres to house destitute asylum seekers.

The Race Relations Act 1976 (Amendment) Regulations
This act, which came into effect on 19 July 2003, enhances the RRA by, for example, extending the definition of indirect discrimination, removing a number of exceptions from the legislation and extending protection from discrimination on the grounds of race and ethnic or national origin, and a change in the burden of proof where a complaint has been made under this legislation – the onus is now on the person or organisation alleged to have committed the act of unlawful discrimination or harassment to prove that he/she/it did not commit such an act.

Equal Pay Act (EPA) 1970 (Amendment) Regulations
This act, which came into force on 19th July 2003, contain two amendments to the EPA (1970). It allows the six month time limit for bringing equal pay claims to be extended in cases of concealment or disability. It also allows for the two–year limit on back pay to be extended to up to six years in cases of concealment and disability.

Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations
Outlaws discrimination (direct or indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation) in employment and vocational training on the grounds of (perceived) sexual orientation, with the burden of proof as in the RRA 1976 (Amendment) Regulations 2003.

Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants) Act
This Act introduces a new single–tier appeals process (Asylum and Immigration Tribunal), to consider all appeals against immigration and asylum decisions. Further appeals to the high court can only be made on the grounds that the tribunal made an error of law. It also abolishes back–dated support payments, creates new offences for undocumented migrants and for non–cooperation with removal.

Gate Gourmet Dispute, London
Following out–sourcing, employees of Gate Gourmet, reported a long trajectory of changes to working conditions. In August 2005 the management brought in temporary agency workers to work in the place of the permanent workers. About 200 workers left the production line and assembled in the company canteen, in the presence of union shop stewards. The management dismissed them over the megaphone and subsequently over 700 of the 2000 workforce were dismissed. A deal was negotiated by the TGWU which involved a selective re–hiring of former employees on new terms and conditions and the compulsory redundancy of 144 workers, a deal which 56 mostly women workers have refused to sign and are maintaining their resistance.

The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations Equal Pay Act (EPA) 1970 (Amendment) Regulations
This act, which came into force on 1st October 2006, protects workers from age discrimination. This Act makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees, trainees or job seekers because of their age and ensure that all workers, regardless of age, have the same rights in terms of employment–related training (including further and higher education courses) and promotion. The regulations cover direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation.

Equality Act
Makes unlawful (apart from certain exemptions) discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief or sexual orientation in the provision of goods, facilities and services, the management of premises, education and the exercise of public functions. It also creates a duty on public authorities to promote equality of opportunity between men and women (‘the gender duty’) and to prohibit sex discrimination in the workplace. This Act also makes provisions to establish a single Commission, the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR), and defines its purpose and functions, to replace the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) and the Disability Rights Commission (DRC).

Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act
The Act restricts the right of appeal for refusal of entry clearance, leaving open only grounds for appeal based on human rights and race discrimination reasons. The Act introduces civil (not criminal) penalties for employers who take on people subject to immigration control and provisions empowering the Home Secretary to deprive a person of British citizenship or right of abode if it is considered that such deprivation is “conducive to the public good”.

Chemilines strike, London
South Asian women members of the GMB voted for strike action over their pay offer. During the ballot and subsequently the management laid off several workers, including one of the union reps involved in the strike. After negotiations with the GMB, Chemilines offered to backdated pay rises but asked for a pay freeze for 2009.

Criminal Justice and Immigration Act
Among other things, this Act introduces a special immigration status for those believed to have been involved in terrorism and other serious crimes and their spouses. Recipients have no formal leave to enter or remain in Britain, and the home secretary can impose conditions on their residence and employment and require them to wear an electronic tag.