EU Laws Put Discrimination High on Agenda; in the Last of a Series of Three Articles, Alison Love, Partner at Hugh James Solicitors, Examines Forthcoming Developments on the European Front Which Will Impact on Domestic Employment Legislation

Article excerpt

Byline: Alison Love

RECENT statistics indicate that women still earn 18% less on av-erage than men. This may account for the fact that two of the fastest growing claims brought before an Employment Tribunal are those under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Equal Pay Act 1970.

If this is not incentive enough for employers to review their practices, European Union laws are adding the pressure on by placing discrimination issues high on the agenda with a wide array of new employment rights in the pipeline.

By July 2003 the Equal Treatment on Race or Ethnic Origin Directive must be implemented into UK law. The effect of this directive is to bring race discrimination into line with sex discrimination provisions.

The directive introduces a wider definition of indirect race discrimination and a new definition of racial harassment. It will be interesting to see how this will impact on the number of Race Relations Act claims brought before the Employment Tribunal.

In addition, the Equal Treatment Directive also requires the UK to introduce new legislation to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, religion and age. The provisions in relation to sexual orientation and religion must be in place by December 2003, with age discrimination to be outlawed by the end of 2006.

Consultation is currently under way on several issues such as the definitions of ``sexual orientation'' and ``religion'', but whatever the final form of the legislation there is no doubting the potential enormity of the effects.

The EU has also introduced amendments to the Equal Treatment Directive, due in 2005. This introduces for the first time a legal definition of ``sexual harassment''. This is established via case law in the UK and as such may have limited impact. Contrast this with the amendments, which provide for employers to produce ``equality plans'' in order to promote and monitor treatment of men and women.

Such plans should include statistical information to be made available to employees and obligations to take preventative measures against all forms of discrimination.

It is this attempt via ``equality plans'' to root out unconscious discrimination in the workplace that is anticipated will pose the greatest problems for employers. …