The TUC has welcomed a new European law which within six years will make it illegal for most UK employers to discriminate against employees because of their age, sexual orientation, religion or any disability they may have.
The TUC congratulates the government on its positive contribution to getting the new Directive through. But the TUC has urged the government not to wait until the time limit imposed by the Directive. The TUC believes that the government should introduce new laws to protect UK workers at the earliest opportunity.
The Employment Framework Directive agreed in Luxembourg on Tuesday evening means that the UK government must introduce new laws preventing employers from discriminating against workers because of their sexual orientation or religion by 2003, and outlawing unequal treatment on the grounds of disability or age by 2006:
UK law currently provides lesbian and gay men at work with little legal protection. Since the TUC launched its Straight Up! campaign last year, it has uncovered numerous cases of homophobia and discrimination. In almost every instance, the victim of discrimination has been unable to seek legal redress. Given the degree of discrimination faced by gay workers, the TUC would like to see the government act much sooner than the 2003 deadline imposed by the Directive.
Because of the complex issues involved in determining a law preventing discrimination in employment on religious grounds, the TUC believes the Directive's three year lead in time will probably be needed.
Discrimination against older workers is widespread, and there are few signs to suggest that the existing voluntary code of practice on age is having much impact. Young workers can also experience discrimination on the grounds of age. The TUC is disappointed to learn that age discrimination might remain lawful for another six years.
The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) already puts the UK miles ahead of most other EU member states in protecting disabled people and the Framework Directive is unlikely to have much impact in this area of employment law. However, the TUC welcomes the fact that the Directive will mean the end of the DDA's exemptions for small firms.
TUC General Secretary John Monks said, "Once more Europe has come up trumps. Yet again UK workers will have Europe to thank for greater protection at work. We congratulate the government on the positive role they have played in getting the new Directive agreed. But the government should not delay. Discrimination against gay workers is widespread, and they shouldn't have to wait another three years before there's a law in place to protect them."