The Commission for Racial Equality has denied claims that a new EU race directive, ratified last week, could mean UK firms will be guilty until proven innocent.
A CRE spokeswoman said, “Honestly-run businesses have nothing to fear from this new legislation. The burden of proof only shifts on to the employer once a case against them is proven.”
The “burden of proof” ruling – which is not written into the existing UK 1976 Race Relations Act – has been implemented because it can be difficult to obtain evidence in discrimination cases.
The Council of Ministers approved the directive on 6 June, which will mean UK employees in all EU member states can take legal action against employers for racial discrimination.
EU states must now adopt the directive and designate a body which will provide independent assistance to race discrimination victims pursuing complaints – a role already fulfilled in the UK by the CRE under the Race Relations Act 1976.
The directive – the first part of a package of three proposals under Article 13 of the 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam – prohibits race discrimination in areas of employment, education, social security, healthcare and access to goods and services. It must be in force across the EU in three years and will be followed by an employment directive and an action programme.
A timetable for discussion and final ratification of the following proposals – an employment directive and an action programme – will probably be decided by France, which will hold the six-month EU presidency from July.