Thursday, 26 March 2009

Times: 'Commision should fight sexual orientation discrimination'
Thursday, 26th March 2009

Serious human problems were being created because of discrimination against people of a different sexual orientation, and the longer it took to address the problem, the more people would suffer, Labour MP Evarist Bartolo said.

Speaking in Parliament yesterday during the debate to amend the Equality for Men and Women Act, Mr Bartolo said he agreed with the amendments proposed but felt that these should be complemented with others tackling discrimination in other sectors.

The National Commission for the Promotion of Equality should, for example, start covering the discrimination of persons with a different sexual orientation.

This should not be a controversial matter because in February last year the major parties, including the PN, had committed themselves with the Malta Gay Rights Movements (MGRM) to tackle the issue. But this was not being covered by the amendments being debated.

Mr Bartolo said that according to a Eurobarometer survey, wide discrimination against gays, lesbians and transgender people existed in Malta together with discrimination based on ethnicity.

Studies by the MGRM found that 10 per cent of gays suffered family or police violence because of their sexual orientation. They also mentioned bullying in schools, and that 40 per cent suffered sexual harassment and discrimination. Many others were afraid to speak up.

Mr Bartolo said there were instances of young people committing suicide due to the discrimination they suffered because they were gay. The political class had the duty to help mitigate the suffering of these people.

They had to be treated as humans and there had to be the political will for this situation to be tackled. The government should keep its word to change the law and give them the required protection.

Mr Bartolo spoke on other kinds of discrimination suffered, including because of one's religion and because of disability. The disabled, he said, were sometimes seen as people who deserved charity, rather than equals.

He pointed out that whatever happened to the problem of illegal migration in future, children had to learn to live in a world where diversity was the norm. But very little was being done in this sector.

Mr Bartolo noted that when it came to children, a lot of emphasis was made on their rights, but not so much on duties.

Carmelo Abela (PL) referred to the NCPE report and said the main challenge was to translate laws into reality through enforcement and culture change.

He said Labour governments had been the first to enact laws and to practise equality. Men and women had the same capabilities but were also complementary to each other. One had to change mentalities and use the proper language in both public and private sectors.

Family responsibility had to be shared by both husband and wife. Work patterns had to change. The family needed support so that certain measures would not cause hardship. Weight had to be given to the impact that certain measures had on the family. Childcare centres had to give effective service to children and had to be affordable for working parents.

Mr Abela said that the commissioner mentioned the difficulties which existed on gender issues. The number of women who were gainfully occupied stood at 31 per cent. There were other working women not statistically covered. He said women employed on small projects should not have to face heavy bureaucratic procedures. The number of female graduates was not reflected in the world of work, with female employees in the education sector amounting to 63 per cent. Up to 52 per cent of those engaged in social work were women.

Labour MP Anġlu Farrugia stressed the need to remove all loopholes to stop discrimination. There had been instances in the past where employers had chosen men over more qualified women. This could not be done, according to an EU directive.

Dr Farrugia said there was a lot of discrimination against people in part-time jobs. These people should know they were entitled to pro-rata benefits, including leave, sick leave and public holidays.

People who did not agree with the commission's decisions could challenge them in a court of law. Besides the commission, the industrial tribunal also had the competence to decide on cases of workers seeking a remedy against their employers. This was a positive development.

Dr Farrugia said that the industrial tribunal had to protect women who had the courage to fight discrimination at the place of work.

Winding up the debate, Social Policy Minister John Dalli said the amendments were significant because they strengthened initiatives against gender discrimination.

The NCPE report declared and listed the sectors where gender discrimination was still present. This showed the independence of the commission, which he said was the Maltese conscience on this issue.

The NCPE implemented a number of programmes to promote equal opportunities. It was fulfilling its function and was praised also by the opposition. When considering reaching European averages one had to safeguard local values and traditions which strengthened society.

Mr Dalli said the government was striving to ensure that all childcare centres were registered. The employment participation rate was positive among young women and those of child-bearing age.

The Bill envisaged that proof of indirect discrimination did not necessarily have to be based on statistics, and the fact that the members of the commission were appointed by the government did not imply that it was imposing its will.

The Bill was unanimously approved. The House then moved on to debate and unanimously approve a consequential amendment to the Employment and Industrial Relations Act. This makes it binding on the chairman of an industrial tribunal investigating a complaint of discrimination to grant compensation if the complaint was proved.

The speakers were Jean Pierre Farrugia (PN), Gino Cauchi and Owen Bonnici (PL). Mr Dalli moved and wound up the debate. Both Bills were also approved from committee stage.

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