Mixed reaction to agreement on EU anti-discrimination Directive

There has been mixed reaction in the UK to the EU Employment and Social Policy Council's agreement in October 2000 to adopt a Directive to combat discrimination in employment on grounds of religion or belief, disability, age and sexual orientation.

The news that the EU Employment and Social Policy Council of Ministers meeting on 17 October 2000 (EU0010274F) had reached political agreement on a revised text of the proposed Directive on equal treatment in employment and occupation (EU9912218F) prompted mixed reactions in the UK.

Employment minister Tessa Jowell, who represented the UK government at the meeting, said that the Directive marked "a new chapter in workplace rights and responsibilities" and pledged to ensure that its implementation "strikes a fair and sensible balance". She said that the Council had accepted a range of key amendments put forward by the UK: "We have fought hard to ensure that the Directive is workable in practice and does not burden business and other organisations with unintended problems."

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) welcomed the Council's agreement to adopt the Directive and congratulated the UK government on "the positive role they have played in getting the new Directive agreed". TUC general secretary John Monks commented: "Yet again UK workers will have Europe to thank for greater protection at work." However, the TUC was critical of the extended, six-year implementation deadline for legislation on age discrimination (TN0010201S), and also argued that gay workers should not have to wait three years for statutory protection against discrimination. The TUC urged the government to introduce new anti-discrimination legislation "at the earliest opportunity".

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) also praised the UK government for "getting a broadly workable result" on the rules governing disability, sexual orientation and religion or belief, but said that business would be disappointed by the "fuzzy law" on age discrimination which the CBI feared would "create considerable confusion". CBI deputy director-general John Cridland said: "It is important to tackle unfair age discrimination but legislation is not the simple panacea some people think. We will urge the British government to resolve as many uncertainties as possible when drawing up the UK regulations." The Federation of Small Businesses said that "the long transition period is encouraging and should give small businesses sufficient time provided it is accompanied by a programme of education and information." However, the Institute of Directors (IoD) was more strongly critical of the Directive. According to the Financial Times, the IoD said that the Directive would add "another layer of regulation" at a time when employers were already "sinking" under the weight of existing workplace rules.

Julie Mellor, who chairs the Equal Opportunities Commission, said in a statement: "The government's decision to support the European Directive which effectively outlaws discrimination against gays and lesbians in the workplace is a highly significant step towards achieving a fair and just society." The gay rights group Stonewall also welcomed the Directive's requirement for legislation preventing discrimination in employment on grounds of sexual orientation.

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