Committee makes recommendations on implementation of EU equal treatment Directive

In December 2002, a public committee delivered its recommendations for the implementation in Norway of the 2000 EU Directive establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation. The main change involved is the introduction of a ban on discrimination on grounds of age.

In December 2002, the public committee considering the legal aspects of workers' protection and the working environment (NO0210103F) delivered its recommendations for the implementation of EU Directive 2000/78/EC establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation (EU0010274F). The Directive, which prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion/belief. disability, age or sexual orientation, applies to Norway through the application of the European Economic Area agreement.

The committee proposes a number of measures to amend the legal framework – specifically the Act relating to Worker Protection and Working Environment (AML) – in order to meet the requirements relating to implementation of the Directive. Although the committee’s report may seem to involve significant alterations to existing rules relating to discrimination, the actual impact of these changes will be limited since non-discrimination is already provided for in most areas. However, the proposed introduction of a ban on age discrimination is new.

In the light of the Norwegian government’s commitment to implement the equal treatment Directive, part of the committee’s mandate was to consider the introduction of the Directive, as well as to propose changes to the existing legal framework, in particular the AML.

In its report, the committee considers those aspects of the Directive that will necessitate changes to the national legal framework, as well as how existing rules may be perpetuated. The committee proposes a general ban on discrimination in relation to gender, religion or belief, ethnicity, national origin, political orientation, trade union membership, sexual orientation, disability or age. The ban is to be made applicable to all aspects of employment, from appointment to contract termination, and as such will also be relevant to issues such as promotion, pay and working conditions. The ban on age discrimination is new, while discrimination on the grounds is already banned. Another novelty is a proposal to prohibit discrimination against self-employed people and employees hired out to other employers.

The committee also recommends allowing for special treatment, or affirmative action, which may contribute to equal treatment. Discrimination is to be remedied, according to the committee, by allowing persons who consider themselves wronged the right to claim both redress for non-economic loss and financial compensation, according to the usual indemnity rules. The general ban on discrimination is to be made applicable to both direct and indirect discrimination, as well as to harassment and instructions to discriminate, as stipulated in Article 2 of the Directive.

The relevant provisions in the Directive should, it is proposed, be incorporated into Section 54 of the AML, which would render the present non-discrimination clause of the AML, Section 55A, purposeless - it should thus be repealed. In relation to gender discrimination, the AML would refer to the existing anti-discrimination provisions of the Gender Equality Act.

Prohibition of discrimination has been on the agenda for a long time in Norway, and many relevant interest organisations have called for stronger legal protection. In July 2001, the prohibition against discrimination in recruitment and selection provided by the AML's Section 55A was extended to cover people with disabilities. The principle of 'shared burden of proof' and a duty to inform was also introduced (NO0108138F). These new rules are very much the same as those in the Gender Equality Act, which bans discrimination on grounds of sex .

The government aim to have the Directive implemented into Norwegian law by 2 December 2003.

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