Unhappy employers hit out at Equality Bill: ‘Will parties employ people of opposing political beliefs?’

Employers association say they will ‘not be treated as second-class citizens’ in stand against Equality Bill’s burden of proof

Civil liberties minister Helena Dalli is spearheading the Equality Bill
Civil liberties minister Helena Dalli is spearheading the Equality Bill

In a libel cases, a journalist has to prove to a court of law that an alleged offence or libellous statement was not, as claimed by the injured party, libellous: the burden of proof lies not with the complainant, to convince the court where the libel exists; it presumes that the libel has taken place and that it should be the journalist to prove otherwise.

Now employers, as well as the Catholic Church – which employs thousands of school teachers – are balking at the Equality Bill’s proposal that employers are presented in court as a guilty party before being given the opportunity to prove their innocence of alleged contraventions of the law.

Malta’s new law is expected to streamline and bolster anti-discrimination laws in employment and other areas, but employers and religious organisations are concerned that the law will remove their power to differentiate in cases where they might feel they want to safeguard businesses’ identities or a religious ethos in schools.

The Malta Employers Association yesterday said the Bill goes “against natural law” since employers would be treated as second-class citizens when faced with a complaint on a contravention of the Equality Act.

“Is this excessive zeal driven by a genuine concern for minority groups, or by electoral convenience and pressure which is being exerted by extremist lobby groups? We are reserving the right to take any legitimate action to protect employers’ rights,” the MEA said.

The MEA said excessive powers are being given to the Commissioner for Equality, who can investigate and take judgement discrimination complaints. “Any person or body accused of discrimination should only be found guilty or otherwise in court after the due legal process, and not by an arbitrarily appointed Commissioner,” the MEA said. “The fact that the original draft of the legislation, which also gave the Commissioner the power and discretion to send an employer to prison without due process, has been amended is of no consolation to employers. The Association added that the provisions of the legislation and the duties of the Commissioner will overlap with provisions which already exist in employment law.”

In a bid to hit out at the implied hypocrisy of government’s proponents, the MEA said private organisations did not have the luxury ministers had to take on ‘persons of trust’, which it termed “an excuse for blatant cronyism and political discrimination.”

“Is government prepared to apply this legislation to its own employment practices, and reassure the tax payer that all employment on the basis of position of trust has been awarded according to the principle of equal opportunity and meritocracy?”

The MEA also stood by the Catholic archdiocese’s viewpoint that it should be able to refuse non-believers from teaching in church schools. “An employer can be accused of discrimination on grounds of ‘personal beliefs’. For example, the church has to give equal opportunity to a non-believer to teach in church schools. This should only be acceptable if the employee follows the institution’s ethos. One has to see whether political parties, for example, are prepared to practice what they preach and offer high positions within their ranks to qualified persons who however sympathize with the opposing party!”

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