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by Felicity Collier
SOLE-LESS Tories were given a kicking by campaigners yesterday after they stamped on proposals to stop sexist employers from making women wear high heels at work.
Responding to a petition set up by discrimination victim Nicola Thorp, ministers cobbled together a line that existing laws are adequate — but were quickly pinned as “cop-outs.”
Ms Thorp started her petition having been sent home without pay by finance giant PricewaterhouseCoopers after she refused to change from flat shoes to a 2-4inch (5-10cm) heel.
Ms Thorp’s suggestion of making such policies illegal attracted over 152,000 signatures in November and led to a parliamentary debate last month.
The Commons women and equalities committee, investigated the issue and heard that women in heels were expected to climb ladders, move furniture and walk for great distances. Others were told to unbutton their blouses to entice male customers.
The committee sought changes to tribunal rules and called for in-depth monitoring of failed discrimination claims.
But arch-Tories insisted that existing laws address the problem, saying it was already illegal for company bosses to force women to wear specific footwear.
The government said that companies cannot discriminate between men and women and it plans to issue new guidelines on dress codes in the summer and raise awareness of laws for employees.
However TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady warned the government’s new guidance won’t be enough if working people can’t stand the cost of taking sexist bosses to a tribunal.
“The government should scrap employment tribunal fees so it no longer costs hundreds of pounds to access justice,” she said.
“This would mean workers can afford to put a stop to sexist dress codes in practice, as well as in legislation.”
The government accepted that some employers “knowingly flout the law” and has called on all employers with dress codes to review them and “consider whether they remain relevant and lawful.”
But Ms Thorp said the government should face its responsibilities as while discrimination is unlawful, employers are still allowed to set out different rules for employees by gender.
She is calling for it to put out specific new legislation to protect women from brogue bosses.
She said: “It shouldn’t be down to people like myself. The government should take responsibility and put it in legislation. “I do think it is a little bit of a cop-out.”
Fawcett Society head Sam Smethers said the government ought to go further and called for sexist firms to be brought to heel.
“What we need to address is the objectification of women at work,” she said.
“Rather than being about a professional appearance, dress codes can be used as a way to require women to dress in a stereotypical or sexy way.
“There is nothing smart about that.”
The equalities organisation has launched a sex discrimination law review and will be considering whether the law on dress codes needs to be changed.
Ms Smethers added: “An awareness raising campaign is welcome but the bottom line is that employers are still getting away with objectifying women at work. That has to change.”
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