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New legislation on sexual harassment in the workplace

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The European Parliament and Council have reached agreement in conciliation on the implementation of equal treatment between men and women as regards access to employment, vocational training and promotion and working conditions.

The agreement, adopted unanimously by the 13 members of Parliament’s delegation, lays down for the first time a clear definition of sexual harassment at the workplace. In the words of Commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou, this will finally enable sexual harassment ‘to be given a name in European legislation’. The European Parliament also insisted on the adoption of preventive measures against sexual discrimination in employment, which of course includes harassment and sexual harassment.

Other important points for Parliament were firstly that employers and employees should jointly draw up action plans to promote equality, and secondly the adoption of positive measures in favour of the ‘under-represented sex’ so as to boost equal opportunities in employment, promotion and vocational training. Parliament also wanted to ensure stronger protection of maternity and paternity rights.

The directive provides for compensation for victims of discrimination. The compensation may not be subject to a ceiling. Member States are also obliged to designate organisations and bodies responsible for assisting victims of sexual discrimination. This was a key issue for Parliament, which insisted on the need to provide these bodies with sufficient financial resources to carry out their tasks. A compromise proposed by the Commission on this point was adopted, although Anna KARAMANOU (PES, GR), chair of the Committee on Womens Rights, regretted the fact that the directive still left a ‘window open to exclusion’ as the Council had not accepted an amendment banning restrictions on access by people of one sex to a given profession.

The new directive, which must be transposed into national law within three years, now has to be approved by Parliament’s plenary and the Council. The official joint text will be posted on Parliament’s website under ‘Concluded Conciliations’

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