[WATCH] Church schools to be banned from discriminating against non-Catholic teachers

Radical equality law will forbid Church schools from discriminating against potential teachers on the basis of their religious beliefs

tim_diacono
Tim Diacono
12 December 2016, 5:46pm
Church schools will no longer be able to deny teachers a job on the basis of their religious beliefs
Church schools will no longer be able to deny teachers a job on the basis of their religious beliefs
Social Liberties Minister hails the two equality Bills as the jewels in the crown of other equality legislations passed by Labour government
Church schools will not be allowed to turn potential teachers down because they are non-Catholics, according to two radical equality Bills that are set to be tabled in Parliament.

Addressing a press conference, Civil Liberties Minister Helena Dalli confirmed that the government had held long discussions with the Church before eventually deciding to include that practice as legally discrminatory.

The Malta Union of Teachers has repeatedly flagged concerns that Church schools are turning down potential teachers because they are not Catholics, or are married to non-Catholics.

MUT president Kevin Bonello said last year that a woman had been accepted as headmistress at a church school, but was turned down ostensibly because the school had discovered she was married to a non-Catholic.

In a position paper on the Bill, the Church had argued that religion freedom, as a universal human right, should not be unduly restrained as a result of an inadequate understanding of the principle of equality.

“Catholic schools are bound to nourish and promote a Christian spirit in the mind and conduct of their students. They can do this especially by creating and maintaining a Christian ethos within their environment. Without this provision, the Church, for example, can be forced to employ educators who conduct public campaigns against some aspects of its teaching.”

Dalli hailed the two equality Bills – that will be tabled in Parliament for their first reading on Wednesday – as the jewels in the crows of other equality legislations passed by the Labour government.

Notably, it will forbid businesses from discriminating against people when providing their services – currently only illegal in terms of gender and race.

Therefore, a gay couple will be able to sue for discrimination if a restaurant kicks them out for kissing at table, if a florist refuses to sell them flowers, or if a baker refuses to sell them a cake. Older people will be able to sue for discrimination if they are refused entry to a public party. 
It will also introduce class action for discrimination lawsuits – which will allow people, unions and NGOs to sue people for discrimination on behalf of an individual or group. 

Moreover, the law will allow people to sue for discrimination on the grounds of two combined identities. Therefore, a Muslim woman who thinks that she has been rejected for a job because she had worn a hijab to her interview will be able to sue the employer for discriminating against her because she is a Muslim woman. 

As it stands, she will only be able to sue on the basis of gender or religion – a case the employer can easily defeat by pointing towards other women or Muslims in his employment.

Elsewhere, the law will expand the concept of discrimination to include that against political views and physical characteristics, and

forbid insurance agencies from charging higher premiums to gay people because of their presumed higher risk of contracting HIV. 

The National Council for the Promotion of Equality (NCPE) will be replaced by an Equality Commission, a fully autonomous and inependent body that will fall under Parliament’s jurisdiction. The Equality Commissioner – currently Renee Leiviera – will have to be approved by a two-thirds majority in the House. The Commission will be able to dish out tougher sanctions to people found in breach of equality laws than the NCPE is currently allowed to.

“The fact that the responsibility for the Commission will shift from my ministry to Parliament is a significant move,” Dalli said. “One doesn’t often hear of ministers removing entities from their jurisdiction, but in line with the Paris Principles on equality it must be so.”