Beyond human rights

Pit ponies, guard dogs, and cats with a responsibility for rodent control
will be among the many non-human workers to benefit from the proposed new
legislation on mammalian equality, by Linda Goldman and Joan Lewis

The Government’s White Paper on Species Friendly Policies was due to have
been published this month, following intense pressure from Europe for the UK to
expedite legislation to prevent non-human discrimination in the workplace in
the short-term.

It is widely expected that the Mammalian Equality Act (Temporary) has been
so designated to be replaced by the Living Animals (Mammals) Bill, which will
complete UK compliance with the Directive on Unification of Mammal Beasts
(Orthoptera), 14/02.

The purpose of the new law is a vast extension of civil liberties, giving
hitherto unexpected rights to working animals, including, for example, pit
ponies, guard dogs and cats kept on premises for rodent control. The rights are
to be restricted to mammals (vermin and other pests excluded, even if
laboratory animals) with no plans for extension to other species,
notwithstanding any ability to communicate by speech.

When the Living Animals (Mammals) Bill becomes law, the rights are expected
to be extended to domestic animals, with certain exemptions for animals trained
to deal with disability, such as guide and hearing dogs, for whom no rest-break
cover can realistically be provided. The implications of this for occupational
health teams are profound as they will now be expected to demonstrate or
acquire veterinary expertise.

What are the new rights?

The Human Rights Act 1996 provides rights to privacy, fair trial and freedom
of expression. Initially, the Act will be extended to incorporate the Mammalian
Equality Act (Temporary) provisions, allowing for laboratory animals above the
pre-experimental weight of 20 kg to have full representation by trainers of
members of their own or associated species to ensure that they enjoy the same
rights as their human counterparts.

The right to family life is likely to cause animal-reliant businesses some
difficulty for which early advance preparation is strongly recommended.
However, concerns will be alleviated about the equivalent of imprisonment of
animals without the right to a fair trial as exemplified in dog pound
situations.

The aim is to ensure that no dog or other stray animal, whether working,
domestic or feral, can be held for more than 24 hours without proper
arrangements being made to ensure their ability to return to such employment as
they previously enjoyed.

This right will be restricted to animals who have been ‘chipped’ to
designate their status. Proper health checks will be carried out on detained
animals to ensure they do not lose the ability to perform the tasks they were
trained and employed to do.

It is not yet clear whether or not the employment status of the animals will
be a definitive criterion in assessing fair treatment.

Working Time Regulations

The Working Time Regulations will be extended immediately after 31 March
2002, to ensure that all working animals, excluding police or armed forces’
dogs, horses or mammalian mascots, who count as serving officers for the
purposes of the law, will be entitled to regulated work breaks.

Equal opportunities legislation will not be amended since the new law is
directed at animals. Keepers and handlers are specifically defined under the
amended regulations with liability for ensuring equality passing to those with
temporary responsibility such as feeders, walkers and groomers.

It is anticipated that proposed veterinary sections of Employment Tribunals
will be co-ordinated for fast-track procedures for dogs and horses. In an
unusually far-sighted concession to the need to deal with matters on the spot,
animal cases will be heard in Rapid-Action Transit Positional or Interventional
Site Office Networks, a form of fast-acting transportational field arbitration.

Training required

Although the veterinary schools will have about a year to prepare courses
and train specialist occupational health teams, there will be an immediate
shortfall in personnel who are experienced not only in dealing with
occupational health matters but also in devising and implementing policies.

In the long-term, co-operation with vets will be required but the short-term
is with us here and now. All organisations where there are working animals need
to have either an occupational health service or access to one. Risk
assessments should be carried out prior to involvement in external animal
contact situations to ascertain the need for special equipment including:

– Leggings

– Off-site communication facilities

– Outdoor team support

– Facemasks

– Lighting

– Interspecies vocabulary aids (whistles, ultrasound devices)

– Restrictive devices (yokes, choke-chains, leads)

– Pedigree investigation questionnaire forms

– Animal behaviour criteria (adapted from DSM III)

Above all, it essential for occupational health practitioners who are new to
this type of work to realise one feature of dealing with animals as clients is
that confidentiality will not apply to the keeping of records or the
transmission of data.

Owners, trainers and employers of animals will have a right to know how
their four-legged friend has behaved or what its needs are in the workplace.
Counsellors at the London Assessment Species Society (Inter-professional)
Executive will be happy to take calls about any query that relates to these
important changes in the law. A specially designated number has been set up to
deal with individual queries on 01277 453665. A website is in preparation.

When making queries, strict adherence to political correctness should be
maintained. The word ‘mongrel’ should not be used to refer to any form of
cross-bred creature. The word ‘bitch’ should only be applied to females of
certified pedigree. These restrictions do not apply to independent contractors
such as foxes or circus animals.

Take your owner to work day

In an interesting shift in policy, the Government has been persuaded that
this widely-used introductory phase of assimilation of animals into the
workplace should be changed within a year to "Take Your Owner to Work
Day". For animal lovers, the pack spirit indicates a bright and
challenging future.

Linda Goldman is a barrister at 7 New Square, Lincoln’s Inn. She is head
of training and education for ACT Associates & Virtual Personnel. Joan
Lewis is senior consultant and director of Advisory, Consulting & Training
Associates and Virtual Personnel, employment law and advisory service
consultancies.

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