Unions challenge draft rules on orientation discrimination

Britain’s major unions are mounting a legal challenge to draft regulations
on sexual orientation discrimination on the grounds that they are not being
implemented in line with the original EU Framework Directive.

Seven of the TUC’s affiliated unions have lodged papers with the High Court
because they believe the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations
2003 – which come into force on 1 December – fail to give adequate protection
to gay and lesbian workers in the areas of pension provision and working for
religious organisations.

The unions, including Amicus-MSF, Unison and the National Union of Teachers,
argue that allowing UK pension schemes to continue to restrict access to
married employees (regulation 25) will amount to indirect discrimination as gay
people are not able to marry their partners.

The unions will argue that apart from a misinterpretation of the EU
directive, this regulation may also be a breach of the Human Rights Act 1998.

The other aspect of the unions’ legal challenge relates to regulation 7(3),
which allows employers to effectively prevent gay, lesbian or bi-sexual people
from working for religious organisations such as churches, schools and
charities.

The exemption was absent from the draft regulations when the Government put
them out to consultation at the beginning of the year and was introduced at the
last stage without consultation.

– Last month the arbitration service Acas gave employers an opportunity to
comment on new draft guidance on the Employment Equality Regulations on
Religion and Sexual Orientation, which will have the status of non-statutory
codes of practice.

The codes give practical advice on how to apply the regulations and
clarifies some of the grey areas. For example, it makes clear that it is
illegal to discriminate against someone for not belonging to a specific
religion or belief as well as for subscribing to it.

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