Court battle for equality in the work place

// 26 February 2007

pregnant workerThe Equal Opportunities Commission is to take the government to court for failing to properly implement European legislation meant to protect against sex discrimination.

As reported in The Guardian today, the equalities watchdog is arguing that Trade and Industry Secretary Alistair Darling has failed to implement the EU’s 2002 Equal Treatment Directive to provide further protection for women in the work place.

They argue that the amendments made to the Sex Discrimination Act, which took effect in October 2005, have too narrow a definition, meaning that we are not protected from harassment by clients or customers, and is in contravention of the objective to ensure that women are not subject to:

“…any unwanted conduct related to their sex which violates their dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.”

The EOC claims that sexual harassment has soared in the service sector, which employs approximately 670,000 women, although under current laws they are unable to pursue a complaint, even if their employer is aware of what is happening. Having worked in the service sector myself, and encountered harassment, be that in a verbal or physical form, the laissez faire attitude adopted by the government with regards to equality laws is doing nothing but propagate a ‘shut up and put up’ mentality, with women reluctant to speak out for fear of losing their jobs.

Failing to provide us with the correct channels to complain does nothing but devalue our opinions and position in a society that prides itself on being a democracy.

The judicial review application, which will be heard this week, will also draw attention to the inadequacy of maternity laws, which leaves the rights of new and expectant working mothers unclear. The EOC will argue that it is not certain whether a woman retains the right to be consulted about changes to her job specification while she is on leave, or whether she is still entitled to promotion if her employer has failed to take into account her time of absence as part of her length of service.

The EOC is of the opinion that pregnant women are actually in a worse position than they were prior to the introduction of these laws, because we now have to provide empirical evidence proving that we are being treated differently than we were prior to pregnancy in order to receive any compensation.

The equality watchdog is very clear in their objective, remarking that:

“The EOC is looking to the court to remedy the defects in the regulations and to provide employers and individuals with clear guidance about their rights and responsibilities.”

That such stringent measures have to be taken to ensure that we are protected in the work place, and treated with the same decency as our male colleagues, is testament to the fact that many unfairly consider the decision to have a baby a weakness of women in the work place, and a decision that makes her automatically denied any sense of professional equality.

Photo by icebourke, shared under a Creative Commons license

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