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DfES hit by sex and race bias claims

Disgruntled staff have taken the Department for Education and Skills to employment tribunals 13 times in the past two-and-a-half years, official figures reveal.

The department has had to defend two claims of racial discrimination and four each of sex and disability bias, according to a Parliamentary answer by Education Secretary Charles Clarke. The other three claims were for unfair dismissal.

No awards for damages were made against the DfES in the period but Mr Clarke admitted that the claims still cost the taxpayer more than pound;100,000. Legal costs were pound;99,500 and pound;26,000 was paid in out-of-court settlements.

The cost of tribunals is, however, dwarfed by the pay-offs given to staff released by the department. More than pound;30 million has been paid to the 432 staff who have been made redundant by the DfES since 1997. The average cost of compensation rose sharply from pound;51,000 per person in 19978 to pound;91,000 in 20034.

The Government has promised that it will shed 1,460 DfES staff by 2008: a third of the 4,400 workforce.

The department has said that it expects the average cost of the first 350 voluntary redundancies planned by 2006 to be significantly lower than last year's figure as most of those departing will be lower-paid administrative staff.

Tony Conway, of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said that cases included alleged breaches of the Disability Discrimination Act.

The Government extended the Act to cover schools in 2002.

Mr Clarke said: "My department is committed to embedding diversity and equality into its employment practices."

Mr Conway said: "The level of tribunal cases is not very high, but that is likely to change over the next few months. Pressure on staff to work harder and low morale are bound to lead to more grievances."

In the same period, the Foreign Office faced 19 cases. But staff at the Wales and Scotland Offices were the least disgruntled. There were no cases at either.

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