Brussels, 29 July 2009
EU gender legislation has helped tackle workplace discrimination – new report
EU legislation has benefited workers through broader protection against discrimination based on gender and clearer definitions of discrimination, says a European Commission report adopted today. Implementation of Directive 2002/73/EC has generally been satisfactory, although not all countries have yet brought their rules into line with EU requirements. The report identifies the main problems and good practices in implementing the Directive, which aims to promote equal treatment for men and women in access to employment, vocational training and promotion, and working conditions.
"Given the persistence of inequality and discrimination based on gender, it is crucial that the relevant European and national legislation is implemented and enforced carefully" says Vladimír Špidla, Commissioner for Employment, Social affairs and Equal opportunities. "The involvement of all actors – the authorities, social partners, NGOs, equality bodies and society at large – is essential if we are to make effective use of the tools to eradicate discrimination provided for in this Directive. In the current economic situation it is important more than ever to use all the human potential available in society."
Today's report looks at how Member States have implemented the key provisions of Directive 2002/73/EC, with a view to identifying the main problems and good practices. It notes progress in implementing the Directive and describes it as satisfactory, but draws also attention to the fact that the Commission has had to take action against some national governments that have not yet brought their laws and procedures into line with the Directive. The report also focuses on the enforcement of obligations under the Directive, noting that victims of discrimination rarely make use of traditional litigation.
National equality bodies have a key role in furthering equality, says the report, particularly in assisting victims of discrimination, who are more likely to turn to an equality body than make use of traditional litigation. As for the role of social partners, employers and NGOs in promoting equality, the report notes a great diversity of approaches throughout Member States.
The legislation amended a previous directive from 1976 (76/207/EEC) and entered into force on 5 October 2002. Member States had until 5 October 2005 to incorporate it into their own national legal systems.
Directive 2002/73/EC modernised EC law on gender equality in a number of ways: it broadened the scope of protection by prohibiting discrimination in access to self-employment and membership of professional organisations and defined more clearly various types of discrimination (direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and sexual harassment, instruction to discriminate) and exceptions to the principle of equal treatment. For the first time, EC law banned sexual harassment in the Directive.
The Directive also protects workers who are pregnant or on maternity leave – women have a right to return to their job or to an equivalent post on terms and conditions which are no less favourable to them, and to benefit from any improvement in working conditions to which they would have been entitled during their absence.
An innovative aspect of the Directive is an obligation to designate a national equality body in each Member State, which would assist victims of discrimination and otherwise promote, analyse, monitor and support equal treatment. The Directive also encourages social dialogue and dialogue with NGOs on issues of equal treatment.
Finally, the Directive includes an obligation for Member States to provide for judicial and/or administrative procedures for the enforcement of the obligations under the Directive, to provide a possibility for victims to claim compensation and to introduce sanctions for breaching the principle of equal treatment. It also includes prohibition of victimisation of an employee as a result of making a complaint.
Information on the transposition of EU gender equality legislation into national law can be found at:
Link to Memo explaining the directive: