On 16.10.2019, AK EUROPA and ÖGB Europabüro invited to an event on anti-discrimination. The event centred around a study on discrimination in Austria, commissioned by AK Vienna. The appointment of the Commissioner-designate for Equality, Helena Dalli, gave yet another reason to debate political and legislative measures against discrimination at EU level.
After Ingrid Moritz (Head of Unit, Women and Family, AK Vienna) and Simone Erne (Federal Women Secretary, Austrian Trade Union Federation) had welcomed participants and guests, the social scientist Daniel Schönherr (SORA) emphasised the various dimensions of discrimination and pointed out to the correlation between discrimination and social status: on the one hand, a low social status would be a reason for discrimination; on the other hand, it was responsible for power structures to maintain the way they were, thereby preventing social mobility. The political response to discrimination had to be Care: one had to recognize each other and to engage with each other. Aljoša Gadžijev, Adviser to the Advocate of the Principle of Equality of Slovenia, introduced the work of the Slovenian equality body that exists since 2016. The trained doctor and researcher at the Center for Public Health, Medical University of Vienna, Igor Grabovac reported of the discrimination LGBTI people face and the quality of and access to health services. He commented that stress, a result of discrimination, often led to chronic diseases. Apart from that, discrimination would cause enormous costs for the economy. He finally referred to the fact that the lack of data regarding this group would make research in most countries extremely difficult.
In the following panel discussion, MEP Evelyn Regner, voiced her support for Helena Dalli whom she deemed an “excellent choice” for the post of Commissioner for Equality. In her role as chair of the European Parliament’s FEMM Committee, she praised the announced proposal on pay transparency and the Task Force for Equality. It was important never to lose sight of the concerns of LGBT people as these were also part of gender equality. She made it clear that she would continue in supporting the fight against the gender pay gap and the gender pension gap as well as for the economic independence of women, even if it was a tough battle. With regard to the Anti-Discrimination Directive, which had been on ice for eleven years, pressure from all sides would be required, in particular from social partners and civil society, to ensure that the Council and thereby the Member States would move on the issue.
Esther Lynch, Deputy General Secretary (ETUC), remembered her own experiences as a 21-year old trade unionist, who vociferously demanded obligatory parental leave for fathers - an idea, “whose time still has still not come”. She made it clear that the trade union movement is ready for the fight against discrimination and that proposals on legislative approaches had long been prepared. She also referred to an ETUC resolution on the “Passerelle” Clause, which would turn the principle of unanimity in the Council, which in fact enables blockades, into qualified majority decisions. Lynch also criticised the one-in-one-out principle for future legislation, which she called “von der Leyen’s first serious mistake. As a working class woman, she asked to regard people with discrimination experiences not as victims, but as active agents of change, who had to articulate their experiences with rage and emphasis - and who had to be listened to.
Yrsa Nyman, Finnish Ministry of Justice presented the plans of the Finnish Presidency on anti-discrimination. She ensured that the issue was taken very seriously and referred to the recently held conference “Advancing LGBTI equality in the EU”, co-organised by the Finnish Presidency. The Anti-Discrimination Directive would be debated on 24th October in the EPSCO Council within the scope of a political debate. Here too, the Finns were very committed to breaking the deadlock. As her co-panelists, Nyman too referred to the importance of data and the monitoring of already implemented measures, such as the Finnish Action Plan for Equality.
Adam Rogalewski, completed the round as EESC Member and head of the international office of All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions. He regretted the very slow progress regarding gender equality, in particular in respect to the gender pay gap. He highlighted the discrimination of refugees and migrants and called for upwards convergence, which would have a positive effect on the standard of living of all people. The impact of digitalisation in the service sector also had to be considered with regard to anti-discrimination. Finally, Rogalewski spoke of his personal experiences as an LGBTI activist and closed with the words that a “genuine European Union” could only be achieved if all people were treated equally.