The impact of the Racial Equality Directive – Views of trade unions and employers (excerpts), 2010

Introduction

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The research involved interviewing employer organisations or associations, individual employers, trade union confederations and individual trade unionists and many NGOs between March and June 2009. It resulted in 27 national reports and this final comparative report

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Controversies over definitions

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The directive does not define what ‘ethnic or racial origin’ should be taken to mean. Many countries explicitly mention skin colour – such as Belgium, Bulgaria, Estonia, and Slovakia – and nationality or national origin – such as Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland, and Romania.

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1. Methodology

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1.3. Ranking employer and union awareness

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In Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Sweden, there were no significant differences in awareness between both sides of industry, according to the interviewers.

2. Employer organisation awareness and responses

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2.1. Discrimination challenges

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Economic crisis

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The analysis that this was a difficult period was shared by the Latvian Employers Confederation (LDDK) interviewee:

“Under the economic crisis employers might tend to be more discriminatory. It might also be more against people speaking Russian and not being fluent in Latvian, if an employer can choose between a Latvian-speaking and a Russian-speaking candidate and has to decide about a staff reduction.”

However, the interviewee went on to indicate that the directive and the anti-discrimination regulations transposing it “could be used as a weapon against  an employer” to make such discrimination less likely.

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2.2.3. Negative response to the directive

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Unnecessary law

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A similar argument came from the Employers’ Confederation of Latvia. Recognising that the antidiscrimination laws had substantially increased awareness among employees, the interviewee suggested: “More information about discrimination brings up more problems and it feels there is more discrimination around.” However, this may probably be true of gender discrimination than other forms, where awareness “is still comparatively low”.

2.2.4. Ignorance and lack of awareness of the directive

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Denial of the problem

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Not here
In some cases a denial by the employer appeared to reflect their sense of pride in their own country. Echoing an Italian marble manufacturer who claimed: “It is in the firm’s DNA not to discriminate”, the Latvian Chamber of Commerce interviewee argued:
Maybe there have been problems in Germany historically – we know that with the Jews. But in Latvia we have never had anything like that. Ethnic discrimination is not a problem, it has never been here. Never! If you hear about that in the press or somewhere else, it is rather an opinion of some individuals. It might be seen as a problem in buses, trams, in city parks, but it is not a problem in business. There is nothing to be improved, because the situation is good. It can only worsen if specially provoked.”

3. Trade union awareness and responses

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3.1. Inclusion or exclusion?

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Impact of the economic crisis

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In one of its smallest economies, Latvia, the Energija union respondent confirmed that minority workers were already worried: “Especially now, some people have turned to me or other  representatives, expressing their fear, asking if limited language knowledge might be one of reasons to be first in line to be fired.

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3.2.3. No impact of the directive

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In some countries where racial or ethnic discrimination has only been prohibited very recently, there is also considerable scepticism about any laws that prohibit such stereotyping. For example, the Latvian Energija trade union respondent reported: “The EU non-discrimination law is seen as something forced on the country from the outside, and non-essential.”

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A slow process of implementation
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The Trade Union Confederation of Latvia (LBAS) interviewee reported a similar problem:
Theoretically we [Latvia] have transposed the majority of the new legal regulations. But we have problems with the other side of the coin, the implementation of these norms.

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3.2.4. Ignorance and lack of awareness of the directive

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Qualifications and discrimination
The view that unfavourable treatment was not ‘discrimination’ was taken by the Latvian teachers’ union (LIZDA). Although teachers from schools with Russian as the main language had approached the union with complaints of ethnic discrimination, it rejected them.

The interviewee explained: “We found out very fast, that there was no discrimination. It was an issue of insufficient qualification of these teachers… Nothing prevented them from abiding by the [Latvian language] law.”

The interviewee continued “We, the trade union, are ready to protect our members, if they prove they try to learn the language… But they must know the state language, the language must be known. That’s the law in Latvia and there is nothing discriminatory in these cases.”

4. Equality Bodies

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4.3. Low numbers of complaints

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Trade union explanations

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In some countries the Equality Body was less responsive to approaches by trade unions than in others. The Latvian policeman’s union (LAPA) approached the Ombudsman’s Office and was informed it could not cooperate with a trade union, but would only deal with complaints by private individuals.

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Tolerating discrimination
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The Latvian Ombudsman’s Office respondent explained the fatalism that many victims of Roma origin experienced:
Roma people themselves do not come to our Office and do not complain. They are so heavily victimised in Latvia that they even don’t complain!”

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6. The way forward: views of the social partners

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6.1. Joint proposals

Rights awareness – more and better communication There was a widespread consensus among both trade unions and employer organisations that more needed to be done either by the Equality Bodies or by national governments to raise public awareness of the economic and social damage done by discrimination on racial or ethnic grounds. This was important, a Latvian employer argued, to help lay the basis of a democratic society in which instead of “people keeping quiet about these cases… they actually have to shout”.

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Annexes

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Annex 6
Table A4: Name of employer organisations, by level and country

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LV
Peak organisation – 2 LDDK (Employers’ Confederation of Latvia), LTRK (Latvian Chamber of Commerce and Industry)

Branch/sector or regional organisation – 1 Association of Latvian Builders

National employer  – 2 Maxima (retail company), Lietiskas Informacijas Dienests

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Annex 7
Table A5: Name of trade union organisations interviewed, by level and country

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LV

Peak – 1 LBAS (Free Trade Union Confederation of Latvia)

Sector/branch or regional – 5 LIZDA (Education and Science Workers Trade Union), LAPA (United Trade Union of Policemen), VSADA (Health and Social Care Workers Trade Union ), “Energija”(Energy sector trade union), LKDAF (Trade Union Federation for People Engaged in Cultural Activities)

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Annex 8
Table A6: Names of NGOs and Equality Bodies interviewed, by country

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LV

Equality Body – 1 , Ombudsman’s Office

National NGO – 1, LCC (The Latvian Centre for Human Rights)

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Annex 9
Country groups
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EU-12 12 New Member States, 10 of which joined the EU in 2004 (Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia) – and are sometimes referred to as the NMS10 – and the remaining two in 2007 (Bulgaria and Romania)
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Table A7: Country codes

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LV Latvia

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Document data: Published March 2010 Link: https://fra.europa.eu/en/publication/2012/impact-racial-equality-directive-views-trade-unions-and-employers-european-union

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