Trade unions are challenging the Government in court to give full employment rights for their lesbian, gay and bisexual members.
The case begins on 17 March at the High Court in the Strand, against the Government's inadequate implementation of the EU Sexual Orientation Employment regulations, which were brought in on 1 December last year.
The TUC is coordinating the action, but it is being brought by seven unions including the teaching unions NUT and NATFHE, other public sector unions, including UNISON, TGWU, and AMICUS, the union representing the clergy.
The Government is being supported by several conservative Christian groups, including the Evangelical Alliance! There are two main points of contention.
The first is the exemption for religious organisations from the provisions of the regulations. Teachers and other employees in religious schools as well as employees of religious charities or indeed anyone who works for an organisation with a "religious ethos" could be denied their rights.
If this is not sorted out many sectors of the country will become immune from equality legislation, and many workers will continue to legally discriminated against because they are lesbian, gay or bisexual.
The second point of the action is the exemption on pensions. This means that we can still be denied the right to give or receive a partner's pension. Whilst many private sector employers give same sex couples pension rights, several large public sector pension schemes do not.
New Labour lobbied in Europe to exclude pensions when the legislation on employment was being drafted - mainly because of the fear of the cost to the Treasury - and now the European law has been put into UK law, the anti discrimination provisions do not cover pensions.
The Government must be challenged when progressive equality legislation is sabotaged in this way. By giving in to the demands of conservative religious lobbyists and Treasury conservatism, the Government has made a potential step forward for civil rights into a dog's breakfast. The trade unions need to win the court case to establish the principle of equality and force back the religious conservatives before further equality legislation is introduced.
By Maria Exall
- The TUC Lesbian and Gay Committee will be demonstrating from 9am on 17 March, outside the High Court in the Strand.