Trade unions and NGOs sign declaration on equality

A historic alliance of trade unions and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) promoting equality has come together to call for new legal and policy initiatives to ensure equality in practice. A joint declaration signed by the European Trade Union Confederation and the Social Platform supports six specific actions that the two bodies consider necessary to ensure effective implementation of current European equality directives. They also call for an extension of equality policy.

On 12 October 2009, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and the Social Platform – the alliance of representative European federations and networks of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) active in the social sector – signed the joint declaration Fight discrimination and guarantee equality for all (89Kb PDF). It represents the outcome of a meeting of representatives from the two organisations at a conference held in Budapest on 25–26 June 2009. At the conference, more than 150 representatives of EU and national-level NGOs and trade unions spent two days debating strategies on combating discrimination, in addition to looking at how they could work together effectively. The declaration consists of six actions that the two organisations call on European institutions and Member States to address.

Actions defined to improve equality

The six actions indentified in the declaration are to:

  • ensure adoption by the European Council of the proposed Article 13 Directive, protecting against discrimination on the grounds of age, disability, religion or belief and sexual orientation in all areas of life. This would have the effect of extending the scope of the equality directive and racial equality directive beyond the area of employment;
  • tackle remaining gender gaps in gender equality policies and legislation ensuring gender mainstreaming;
  • mainstream equality in all EU policies;
  • invest in strong social policies and public services that support equality;
  • develop rights-based migration and integration policies;
  • work in strong partnership with trade unions and civil society organisations at European and national level.

Content of Article 13

The declaration states that ‘discrimination is a very serious infringement of a person’s human rights’ and notes that there is ‘sound and extensive evidence of discrimination based on any one of the grounds mentioned in Article 13 of the EC Treaty’. Article 13 states:

Without prejudice to the other provisions of this Treaty and within the limits of the powers conferred by it upon the Community, the Council, acting unanimously on a proposal from the Commission and after consulting the European Parliament, may take appropriate action to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.

Implementation of legislation at national level

Through the declaration, the parties involved call on the European Commission to continue to ensure that Member States adequately transpose and implement the directives into national legislation and that ‘standards should be set and enforced for the effectiveness and independence of equality bodies established’ under the legislation. It also highlights that cost cannot be used as a justification at national level for disregarding equality. In relation to gender discrimination, the declaration calls for a further strengthening of the law on equal pay and on the reconciliation of work and private life for both women and men.

Mainstreaming of equality policy

Furthermore, mirroring the findings of the European Commission’s annual report 2009 on equality between women and men, the declaration also agrees that in a period of economic crisis ‘special measures must be taken to ensure that women benefit from actions and activities to tackle unemployment, such as training and investment in jobs’. For this reason, the parties to the declaration see gender mainstreaming as a key priority in all policy areas. This leads to a call for the mainstreaming of equality in all EU policies to include grounds such as social origin, genetic characteristics, trade union membership and political or any other opinion.

Other demands of declaration

ETUC and the Social Platform favour implementation of the New Social Deal intended to tackle the economic crisis. They also call for strong partnerships between trade unions and civil society organisations. According to the declaration, these organsiations each have a ‘specific and complementary role in giving voice and representation to people inside the workplace, in the labour market, and in society at large’. Lastly, the declaration states that rights-based migration and integration policies are essential to prevent and counteract xenophobia, as well as racial and religious discrimination.

Sonia McKay, Working Lives Research Institute

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