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MPs fudge gay issue

AS PART of a lengthy battle for the introduction of legislation preventing discrimination against homosexuals and other minority groups, parliament has approved a clause in the amended labour code forbidding employers from enquiring about their employees' sexual orientation.
The labour code explicitly forbids discrimination on the grounds of gender, race, and physical ability, but it does not mention sexual orientation.
The homosexual community says that the new provision is no guarantee of non-discrimination in the workplace, and insists that it will continue pushing for the passage of a separate non-discrimination law that would expressly ban and punish discrimination against the group.


Homosexuals say a provision in the new labour code won't save them from workplace discrimination
photo: TASR

AS PART of a lengthy battle for the introduction of legislation preventing discrimination against homosexuals and other minority groups, parliament has approved a clause in the amended labour code forbidding employers from enquiring about their employees' sexual orientation.

The labour code explicitly forbids discrimination on the grounds of gender, race, and physical ability, but it does not mention sexual orientation.

The homosexual community says that the new provision is no guarantee of non-discrimination in the workplace, and insists that it will continue pushing for the passage of a separate non-discrimination law that would expressly ban and punish discrimination against the group.

In 2000, a directive approved by the EU Council recommended that all EU member states and candidates pass effective anti-discrimination laws securing protection from workplace discrimination on the basis of gender, race, religion, and sexual orientation.

European bodies have confirmed that they will continue to encourage Slovakia to approve effective non-discrimination legislation by the time the country joins the union, scheduled for May 2004.

Along with other changes to employment regulations, the rewritten labour code, passed on May 21 by the Slovak parliament, introduces a clause that forbids employers to enquire about their employees' sexual orientation.

The clause was written into the law as a compromise between political parties, some of which were in favour of a total ban on workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and others, such as the ruling Christian Democrats (KDH), insisting that all workers were sufficiently protected by the existing general non-discrimination clause enshrined in the Slovak constitution.

Shortly before the voting on the labour code, the KDH proposed the compromise, and party representatives later said that they consider the issue of non-discrimination against the homosexuals "solved and closed" with the passage of amendment.

"We think that the compromise is a good one. We believe that no one should be asked about his or her sexual orientation in the workplace, because it is an intimate and personal matter," Mia Lukáčová, secretary of the KDH parliamentary caucus, told The Slovak Spectator.

"With the passing of this [labour code amendment] we consider the issue of non-discrimination against the homosexuals solved and closed," she said.

But Slovakia's homosexual community protested that the compromise solved few of the problems gays encounter in the workplace.

According to Mariana Šípošová, spokeswoman for the organisation Inakosť (Otherness) that represents Slovak gays and lesbians, banning employers from asking questions about a person's sexual orientation was "in no way enough to prevent discrimination".

"The employer can still find reasons to [unjustly] fire a homosexual, and the labour code does not introduce any penalties for such acts," she said.

In an October 2002 survey carried out by Inakosť on 251 homosexual respondents, 7 percent of them said they suspected they were refused jobs because of their sexual orientation and 6 percent thought they had been fired for that reason.

Fearing that if their identity were revealed, they would lose their jobs, as many as 55 percent said they felt they had to keep their sexual orientation secret in their workplace.

Some MPs and officials with the European Commission's delegation in Bratislava expressed support for the community's position.

Former labour minister Oľga Keltošová, now an independent MP, said: "The labour code must expressly forbid [all] discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation."

She told the Slovak daily Pravda that the approved provision could be got around, "and it most probably will be got around [by employers]".

Meanwhile Onno Simons, counsellor with the EC delegation in Bratislava, said that although the approved change in the labour code could be seen as "progress", the commission would continue to encourage Slovakia to approve an effective non-discrimination act.

"It is progress but it is not enough. The EC definitely looks forward to [Slovakia approving] an anti-discrimination law," Simons said.

But that may prove difficult, as the influential KDH has frequently said that the party does not see any reason for such legislation, arguing that sufficient safeguards against discrimination already exist in the constitution.

The effectiveness of those safeguards, however, has been thrown into doubt by a number of minority groups, including homosexuals and female workers, who say they continue to face discrimination in the workplace.

"It is just like discrimination against women. If an employer wants to hire a man, he will make up reasons why he should reject an [equally qualified] female candidate. If he wants to fire a woman or a homosexual, he will easily find reasons to justify that as well," one 39-year-old female employee of a Bratislava insurance firm who wished to remain anonymous told The Slovak Spectator.

But the KDH continued to insist that the approved labour code provision would prevent future discrimination against homosexuals.

"This minority is pushing for above-standard rights and no group enjoys such [legal] exemptions as homosexuals wish to have," said Lukačová.

"I am left handed but I am not asking to have my computer at work adjusted to suit my requirements," she said.

Nevertheless, Šípošová of Inakosť said her organisation was prepared to continue to campaign for the separate anti-discrimination law, even though it admits the chances of success are low.

"The prospects are not very bright, but we cannot give up the fight. We will try with all our powers to push through the law."

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