Action Alert – EU Directive 565

  • post Type / Action Alert
  • Date / 11 October 2000


Dear Friend,

The National Secular Society, UK, an IHEU Member Organisation, has lobbied hard recently to defend the employment rights of humanists and homosexuals within the European Union. Your help is now urgently sought by the IHEU to ensure that an important Humanist victory already won in the European Parliament is also ratified by the European Union’s Council of Ministers.

EU Directive 565 requires EU member states to pass legislation to outlaw discrimination at work on grounds of religion or belief and sexuality, and other grounds (‘belief’ includes non-belief). In its original version, as proposed by the ‘Employment and Social Affairs Committee’ of the European Parliament, religious groups would have had exemption on grounds of religion or belief from the obligations of this Human Rights legislation. After lobbying by the NSS, Article 4.2 of this Directive has been amended to make the exemption permissive rather than mandatory.

This means that member states will, if they wish, be able to restrict the extent to which religious groups can discriminate in employment on religious grounds. Had the amendment not been passed, member states would have been required to give wide exemptions to religious organisations employing staff in the education, welfare and health sectors, even if they were publicly funded.

Though the result is not entirely satisfactory, this is a valuable gain.

The European Parliament’s vote is subject to ratification in Brussels on Tuesday 17 October. It is essential that you immediately lobby your prime ministers and employment ministers hard to ask them to support Article 4.2 being permissive, i.e. the third word being retained as “may” rather than reverting to “shall”. Text of Article at end of this IHEU Action Alert.

Why immediate action is so important
The amendment was only won by a close vote so may be vulnerable to reversal by the Council of Ministers. Please lobby now.
We recommend also that at a national level Humanists be vigilant and monitor closely the relevant legislative proposals.

The National Secular Society has been spear-heading the campaign for this change working closely with MEPs, the European Commission and selected member states. www.secularism.org.uk

Detailed Wording of Article 4 as approved by European Parliament:

Article 4 Essential Occupational Qualifications

4.1. Notwithstanding Article 2(1) and (2), Member States may provide that a difference of treatment which is based on a characteristic related to any of the discriminatory grounds referred to in Article 1 shall not constitute discrimination where, by reason of the context in which the occupational activities are carried out, such a characteristic constitutes an essential occupational qualification and is objectively and reasonably justified by a legitimate purpose.
4.2. Member States may provide that, in the case of public or private organisations which pursue directly and essentially the aim of ideological guidance in the educational, social, health care and related work they undertake, and for the particular occupational activities within those organisations which are directly and essentially related to that aim, a difference of treatment based specifically upon the religion or belief of an individual shall not constitute discrimination where, by reason of the nature of these activities, the religion or beliefs in question constitute a genuine occupational qualification. This will not justify discrimination on any other grounds.

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