Unions demand action on equal rights for gay staff

Unions are calling for the immediate enactment of UK legislation to stamp
out discrimination against gay staff ahead of the EU’s law on equality in 2003.

The Scottish Court of Session dealt a blow to equality in the workplace this
month when it over- turned an Employment Appeal Tribunal ruling. The court
stated the interpretation of "sex" in the Sex Discrimination Act
concerns gender, not sexual orientation.

John Monks, general secretary of the TUC, said, "The decision is
disappointing because it confirms that existing sex discrimination laws cannot
be used to protect gay people who have been discriminated against.

"Sadly, gay workers have another two years to wait before new European
laws are introduced over here. But there is no need for further delay, as the
Government could outlaw anti-gay discrimination at a stroke by bringing in a
new UK law."

The controversial decision centres on the Macdonald v MoD case, which
involved an Army flight lieutenant who, during an interview for another role in
the forces, stated he was a homosexual. He was subsequently asked to resign and
when he refused, he was sacked.

The Government will have to implement the EU’s framework directive by the
end of 2003, which will make it illegal for employers to discriminate against
employees because of their sexuality.

It puts HR in a difficult position, said Nick Hurley, solicitor at Charles
Russell. He said, "With the EC directive coming in two years’ time,
employers still have to be careful about the situation.

"The sensible course for all HR directors would be to stamp out
discrimination now."

Bruce Warman, personnel director at Vauxhall, claimed that time is needed to
address the issues properly. He said, "We need a definition of a couple.
Pensions in final-salary schemes say that employees’ married partners continue
to collect the money. This is not extended to non-married heterosexual couples
or gay couples, and because of this we cannot rush legislation through."


By Paul Nelson

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