Conciliation committee agrees text of draft equal treatment Directive

A draft EU Directive updating the 1976 equal treatment Directive is nearing final adoption, following the agreement of a compromise text by a Council/European Parliament conciliation committee in April 2002. The text, which covers matters including sexual harassment, now goes to the Parliament and the Council for final approval.

On 18 April 2002, a joint Council of Ministers/European Parliament (EP) conciliation committee issued an agreed joint text of a draft Directive updating the 1976 Directive (76/207/EEC) on equal treatment for men and women as regards access to employment, vocational training and promotion, and working conditions. This proposal was first issued by the European Commission on 7 June 2000 (EU0006255F), with the aim of modernising and updating the 1976 Directive and including the issue of sexual harassment in the text. The proposal has since been making its way through the EU decision-making machinery, subject to the co-decision procedure.

At the EP's second reading of the draft Directive, in October 2001, it proposed a number of amendments to the Council's common position agreed in July 2001 (EU0106220F), which the Commission and Council could not subsequently accept. In accordance with the co-decision procedure, a joint Council/EP conciliation committee was set up to try to broker an agreement on the content of the text.

The text issued by the committee on 18 April contains the following main points:

  • the inclusion of a new article stating that harassment on the basis of sex as well as sexual harassment constitutes discrimination. The text also, for the first time, provides a definition of sexual harassment, as follows -'where any form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature occurs with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person, in particular when creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment';
  • the inclusion of definitions of direct and indirect discrimination, in line with those contained in the 2000 Directive (2000/43/EC) against discrimination based on race (EU0006256F) and the 2000 Directive (2000/78/EC) establishing a general framework for equal treatment (EU0010274F).;
  • new provisions on enforcement of the Directive and the removal of any upper limit on compensation and reparation;
  • a new responsibility on Member States to establish agencies with specified powers to promote equal opportunities;
  • an obligation on employers to take 'preventive measures' against all forms of discrimination, especially sexual harassment. Employers will also be obliged to establish enterprise-level 'equality plans', which are to be made available to workers; and
  • employment safeguards for new parents of either sex who are seeking leave to look after infants.

The conciliation committee text will now be forwarded to the EP for final approval by a plenary session in May and to the Council for final approval at a forthcoming meeting.

The Employment and Social Affairs Commissioner, Anna Diamantopoulou, has welcomed the issuing of the joint text: 'With this Directive, the EU introduces important new provisions on preventive measures against sex discrimination, sexual harassment, maternity/paternity leave and company equality plans. The general level of awareness of sexual harassment in Member States is very poor. Now sexual harassment, absent from most national laws today, will finally have a name.'

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