[WATCH] Moral damages up to €10,000 can be awarded under proposed equality law

New laws seek to make equality a fundamental human right, enforceable through the imposition of fines and awarding of moral damages

The Equality Minister said the new laws will position the right to equality at the same level as other human rights, and constituted the government's response to the changes in society.
The Equality Minister said the new laws will position the right to equality at the same level as other human rights, and constituted the government's response to the changes in society.
New law will make equality a fundamental human right - Edward Zammit Lewis

Two proposed new laws will be elevating equality to the status of a fundamental human right, with the awarding of moral damages for breaches being envisaged.

The two Bills, Bill 96 laying out the Equality Law, and Bill 97, which establishes an Equality Commission, will bring about "another social revolution" in Malta, and integrate the safeguarding of equality into every aspect of life, Edward Zammit Lewis said.

The Equality Minister said the new laws will position the right to equality at the same level as other human rights, and constitute the government's response to changes in society.

The proposed laws - which Parliament will start the second reading of today - are the result of a five-year consultation process with the public and civil society stakeholders, also involving discussions with the Malta Council for Economic and Social Development (MCESD) and Employment Relations Board (ERB).

The Bills have also passed the Small to Medium Enterprise Test and have been approved by the Venice Commission, with the majority of the Commission's recommendations having been endorsed by the government and reflected in the proposed laws.

The Equality Commission - which will be autonomous and answerable to Parliament and will replace the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality (NCPE) - will have the power to issue fines and award moral damages of up to €10,000 in case of breaches.

Members of the Commission will be appointed by Parliament following a call for nominations from the public. The Commissioner in charge will need to be approved by a two-thirds parliamentary majority.

"What is the point of having a right which can't be enforced? Bill 96 establishes equality as a right, while Bill 97 sets up the Equality Commission which even has the power to award moral damages up to €10,000. This makes Malta one of the best countries in this sector," Zammit Lewis said.

The minister said the new law would gather all previous piecemeal laws on equality into one all-encompassing legal framework. It would also mirror European Commission president-elect Ursula von der Leyen's promise to make the drawing up of an EU anti-discrimination law a priority.

Desiree Attard, Equality Ministry legal advisor, said the law will prohibit discrimination based on age, religion, disability, race, families responsibilities and pregnancy, amongst other criteria.

It will apply to a vast number of sectors, including employment, education, and access to goods, services and banking.

The law will also introduce a requirement of a minimum 40% gender balance in all public entities' recruitment, Attard said, in what amounts to "positive action."

"The government is imposing on itself certain obligations, including to introduce equality mainstreaming in all areas of government, and to put in place an equality plan which has to be revised every three years," Attard said.

'An economy with a purpose'

Responding to questions from MaltaToday on whether the new laws could be seen as a burden for employers, Zammit Lewis acknowledged that there could be challenges.

"But this is why I said the Bills are revolutionary," he said, "They will [indeed] impose positive obligations on the private sector, we know this."

"But will work together on this [...] I believe both the public and private sectors have to practice equality, as only in this way can we say we have a functional democracy and an economy with a purpose."

"The laws will sustain our economy by integrating equality into everyday practice, ensuring every citizen feels included in society," Zammit Lewis added.

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