TUC to lead fight for gay rights in ‘loophole’ legislation

The
TUC today announced that it is to co-ordinate a union-backed legal challenge to
new regulations which could allow pension schemes and religious organisations
to continue to discriminate against lesbian and gay workers.

The
challenge is being lodged to address what the unions believe are loopholes in
the legislation which outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation
or religion and come into force in December.

Seven
of the TUC’s affiliated unions (including Amicus-MSF, Unison and the National
Union of Teachers) have lodged papers with the High Court because they believe
the regulations are not being implemented as required by the original EU
Employment Equality Framework Directive.

The
unions argue that aspects of the Government’s Employment Equality (Sexual
Orientation) Regulations 2003, which are meant to give lesbian and gay people
additional legal protection, will actually end up discriminating against them.

The
union legal challenge is based on two key points of the proposed UK law –
regulation 25, which relates to pensions and regulation 7(3), which affects
people working for religious organisations.

TUC
general secretary Brendan Barber said: "The Government’s new sexual
orientation regulations as a whole will make a real difference to gay people,
giving them real legal protection at work for the first time. But it is
unfortunate that the Government has decided to exempt those working for
religious organisations and wants to bar lesbians and gay men from receiving
benefits from certain pension schemes."

The
unions argue that because regulation 25 will allow UK pension schemes to
continue to discriminate in favour of married people (it says that
discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is not unlawful if it is
done to prevent or restrict access to a benefit by reference to marital
status), it amounts to indirect discrimination as gay people are not able to
marry their partners.

The
unions will also argue that as well as a misinterpretation of the EU Framework
Directive, the Government’s proposed regulation may also be a breach of the
Human Rights Act 1988.

By Ben Willmott

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