Equal Opportunities

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In spite of the action taken at European level for eliminating discrimination, much remains to be done. In order to promote equality in the EU, 2007 was designated the ‘Year of Equal Opportunities for All’.

Background

The principle of equal pay for men and women was already introduced by the Rome Treaty (1957). 

The EC Treaty provides for a number of anti-discrimination clauses, such as:

  • The principle of gender mainstreaming (art. 2, 3), which applies to all EU policies and activities;
  • equality between women and men in matters of employment and occupation (art. 141) and sex discrimination (art. 13);
  • art. 13 gave the EU level the competence to “take appropriate action to combat discrimination", and;
  • sex discrimination within and outside the work place (art. 13).

The 1975 equal pay directive, expands the Treaty provisions and defines the principle of equal pay as “means for the same work or for work to which equal value is attributed, the elimination of all discrimination on grounds of sex with regard to all aspects and conditions of remuneration”.

The 1976 equal treatment directive covers all aspects of employment. It requires that there shall be “no discrimination whatsoever on grounds of sex, either directly or indirectly by reference in particular to marital or family status”.

The racial equality directive and the employment equality directive, adopted in 2000, prohibit discrimination, harassment and victimisation in employment and training on the grounds of race or ethnic origin, in employment and beyond. 

In 2002, the equal treatment directive was amended to include definitions of sexual harassment, harassment, direct and indirect discrimination.

Issues

Framework strategy

The Framework strategy on non-discrimination and equal opportunities for all aims to ensure that EU legislation in this area is fully implemented and enforced. Some member states (Austria, Finland, Germany, Luxembourg) have already been condemned by the European Court of Justice for not sufficiently implementing legislation. 

The strategy also encourages the adoption of additional measures, which go beyond legal protection, such as information-dissemination, awareness-raising, the sharing of experiences, training and access to justice.

European Year of Equal Opportunities for All

The Year of Equal Opportunities for All has three key aims:

  • Making EU citizens aware of their right to non-discrimination and equal treatment;
  • promoting equal opportunities for all – access to employment, education, in the workplace or in the healthcare sector, and;
  • promoting the benefits of diversity for the EU.

In order to achieve this, the Year will focus on four main themes:

  • Rights: raising awareness of the right to equality and non-discrimination;
  • representation: stimulating a debate on ways to increase the participation of under-represented groups in society;
  • recognition: celebrating and accommodating diversity, and;
  • respect and tolerance: promoting a more cohesive society.

A new Eurobarometer report shows that anti-discrimination legislation is still not sufficiently implemented in the EU. Almost two thirds of Europeans think that non-whites, disabled people, gays, senior citizens, people with different religious beliefs and women are being discriminated against in their country. 

Gender

Gender equality is a key political objective for the EU and a central piece of the non-discrimination strategy. But it is also important in order to achieve the EU’s economic and social goals as part of the EU’s Lisbon Strategy aimed at promoting economic growth and competitiveness.

The Roadmap for equality between women and men 2006-2010 defines some existing areas and proposes new areas of action. Six priority areas have been selected: equal economic independence for women and men, reconciliation of private and professional life, equal representation in decision-making, eradication of all forms of gender-based violence, elimination of gender stereotypes and promotion of gender equality in external and development policies.

Migration

The EC Treaty also includes provisions against nationality discrimination and guaranteeing the free movement of workers within the EU (art.12, 9 EC Treaty). The ECJ has applied these in a number of cases. The population of the enlarged EU is increasingly diverse. That is why there is a pressing need to improve the opportunities for migrants, people with disabilities, younger and older people as regards education and employment. The Commission plans to set up a high-level advisory group to work on social and labour-market integration of minorities, including the Roma.

Disabilities

In July 2005, the EU adopted a strategy to mainstream disability issues  into relevant EU policies and develop actions in order to improve the integration of people with disabilities.

Positions

European Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities Commissioner Vladimir Spidla said: “Europe must work towards real equality in practice. The Year of Equal Opportunities for All and the framework strategy will provide a new drive towards ensuring the full application of EU anti-discrimination legislation, which has encountered too many obstacles and delays. Fundamental rights, non-discrimination and equal opportunities will remain key priorities for the Commission.”

Waltraud Heller of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) stated: "Two things are crucial: It is important that all grounds of discrimination should be covered during the Year, and that civil society as well as the people who are vulnerable to discrimination have to be involved. If these conditions are met, the 2007 Year of Equal Opportunities will not only make a real difference to the lives of those who experience discrimination, but to society as a whole."

The European Women's Lobby declared: "A strong link should also be made with the specific work done by the European Commission on gender equality both in terms of policy and programmes and in terms of legislation. A key challenge will be to show that the notion of 'equality' does not mean 'sameness' but rather takes account of differences and diversity to ensure equal treatment for everyone."

British Conservative Employment Spokesman MEP Philip Bushill-Matthews commented: "The current problem for the EU is not the absence of a social dimension but the presence of an anti-social dimension - over-prescriptive employment legislation that puts burdens on businesses, and keeps 18 million Europeans unemployed. Simply talking about equal opportunities will not help those without a job, unless accompanied by practical steps to make it happen." 

Many companies have integrated equal opportunities principles into their employment policies, not just as part of a CSR exercise, but also because they feel that they profit from a diverse workforce. Microsoft UK, for instance, states: "We seek to employ a workforce which reflects the diverse community at large, as it values the contribution of individuals irrespective of sex, age, marital status, sexual orientation, disability, race, colour, religion, political opinion, ethnic or national origin, nationality, or any other non- job related consideration. The company will not tolerate discrimination in the workplace and aims to ensure that each employee feels valued, and have the opportunity to contribute fully to the success of the company."

Manpower's CSR mission statement says: "Our focus is on providing jobs and job training for the following groups, working in partnership with governments and NGOs, as appropriate: 

  • Long-term unemployed/under-employed 
  • People with disabilities 
  • Disenfranchised individuals 
  • Victims of disaster 
  • Victims of exploitation 
  • Refugees 
  • Youth 

Timeline

Further Reading

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