Equal Opportunities boss accused

Unions allege a policy of right-wing appointments, writes Barrie Clement
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The head of the Equal Opportunites Commission will today be accused by her own staff of poor employee relations and of showing political bias towards the Government. Employees' representatives will tell Kamlesh Bahl, chairwoman of the commission and a former Conservative activist, that she is too close to ministers.

Today's session is the annual meeting between officials, commissioners and staff, cancelled last year at a week's notice after Ms Bahl objected to employees' protests. Unions threatened industrial action to get the meeting reinstated.

It will be alleged that under Ms Bahl, the commission has "sanitised" press releases in the Government's favour and suppressed sensitive studies. It is said to have "sat on'' a report on compulsory competitive tendering. The research into the employment policies of private companies providing local authority services shows the tendering process has made thousands of women redundant and undermined equal opportunites.

Unions want a code of practice to govern Ms Bahl's treatment of personnel and a guarantee that they will have input into policy decisions.

Under the previous chairwoman, Joanna Foster, who once worked for Conservative Central Office, the commission concentrated on high-profile legal battles which embarrassed ministers. A prime example was the decision to take the Government to the European Court over employment legislation.

Insiders claim no new initiatives were initiated by Ms Bahl and that the commission is emphasising individual cases which have less general impact. Senior staff say initiatives have to be seen to be "business friendly".The commission chairwoman also has been criticised for appointing Government supporters to the EOC.

Employees' leaders are concerned about the appointment of Robert Fleeman of the right-wing Institute of Directors and Richard Grayson, recently retired company secretary at BP. Rita Donaghy, from the national executive of the public services union, nominated for a seat on the commission by the TUC, was rejected in favour of Peter Smith, leader of the non-TUC Assocation of Teachers and Lecturers. Staff complain about Ms Bahl's "autocratic manner". One inside source said that "requests are made to sound more like orders".

The National Union of Civil and Public Servants and the Civil and Public Services Association, which will be represented at today's meeting, refused to comment.

Responding to the allegations , Peter Naish, chief executive, said that while he could not discuss the meeting, staff concerns as repeated to the Independent, did not reflect the anxieties put to officials.