Fabian Demicoli

Equality position paper




PROPOSAL FOR A COUNCIL DIRECTIVE ON IMPLEMENTING THE PRINCIPLE OF
EQUAL TREATMENT BETWEEN PERSONS IRRESPECTIVE OF RELIGION OR BELIEF, DISABILITY,
AGE OR SEXUAL ORIENTATION COM(2008)426 FINAL

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

1. GRTU cannot support the
directive proposal
in its present form since it would create legal
uncertainty
and additional burdens for the enter-prises in the
commerce sector.

2. Instead of new legislation with an
unclear outcome, GRTU advocates a non-legislative approach and is very
much in favour of an intensified and structured dialogue between public
authorities, business and all other stake-holders concerned, in particular NGOs
representing those groups of society which are exposed to discrimination.



STATEMENT

 

1. GRTU is opposed to discrimination
of any kind and is hence fully committed to tackle this phenomenon in the
best possible way. It is part of retailers’ strategy to make their stores
freely accessible to as many customers as possible. In times of demographic
change, for example, the unrestricted accessibility to goods and services is
even becoming a competitive advantage. Therefore, it is obvious that
discrimination is by no means in the interest of retailers.

 

2. The promotion of equal
opportunities has been a priority of GRTU for a long time. Many enterprises in
commerce are committed to the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility and
make an effort to live up to society’s expectations through the adoption of
numerous voluntary measures which aim to offer their customers a barrier-free
and non-discriminatory shopping environment.

 

3. Notwithstanding its commitment to
fight discrimination, GRTU disapproves the directive proposal in its current
form
for a number of reasons.

 

4. 
From GRTU’s point of view, the existing directives based on
article 13 of the EC Treaty along with the corresponding national laws already
offer a comprehensive framework to combat discrimination. Therefore,
GRTU is not in favour of any new legislation at EU level and rather stresses
the need for a proper implementation of the already existing legislation.

 

5.
GRTU is not convinced that additional legislation would be of significant
benefit for the target groups. It is rather questionable that more detailed
legislation would bring about substantial changes regarding discrimination.
Discrimination is a societal problem which starts in people’s minds and
which will not disappear quicker due to a new law but rather through education
and sensitisation
of the citizens. Therefore, GRTU advocates the promotion
of non-legislative measures
which, from its point of view, are the
best-suited tools to ease the access to goods and services for all.

 

6. As far as the concrete content of
the directive proposal is concerned, GRTU would like to make the following remarks:

 

·        
According to article 3, paragraph
1, subparagraph (d)
, commerce would be directly affected by the directive.
In the explanatory memorandum of the proposal, the Commission states that the
initiative aims, amongst others, “to ensure legal certainty for economic
operators”. GRTU feels however that this condition is not fulfilled in the
present proposal. On the contrary, for GRTU this directive proposal would
create legal uncertainty since it is very vague on a number of crucial
points.

 

·        
This is particularly true for article
4
which deals with the equal treatment of persons with disabilities.
As regards paragraph 1, subparagraph a), it goes without saying that
retailers anticipate the needs of all their customers when, for example, it
comes to the opening of new shops. It is however not clear for GRTU what can be
understood by “appropriate modifications or adjustments” for already
existing stores. Where does this start and where does it end? Would this mean
that stores need to be rebuilt in order to be 100 percent barrier-free? Would
every multi-storey store have to be equipped with elevators? Would all products
need to have Braille-marked price tags? In GRTU’s opinion this provision is
unacceptable, at least disproportionate per se, because the existing stores
were constructed in compliance with the laws that were valid and applicable at
the time of construction. For GRTU, it is therefore imperative to safeguard the
perpetuation of the status quo for already existing stores.

 

·        
Paragraph 2 of article 4 does not really give a satisfactory answer to these exemplary
questions. The indicators that are given to define what would be a disproportionate
burden
are also very vague and thus not helpful. Where does the
Commission draw the line when it comes to “the size and resources of the organisation,
its nature, the estimated cost, the lifecycle of the goods and services” etc.?
Does this stipulation, for example, refer to sales, the number of employees or
gross profit? Especially small and medium-sized enterprises, which
account for 95 percent and thus are the backbone of the commerce sector, could
be seriously affected in their business activities by an extensive application
of this paragraph.

 

·        
In this context, GRTU is also very
critical of the possible consequences that an extensive application of article
7
(defence of rights by associations, organisations or other legal
entities) in combination with article 8 (reversal of the burden of
proof) might have for the commerce sector and, again, SMEs in particular. In extreme
cases, the consequences of these provisions might be numerous legal procedures
by associations or lawyers who simply want to make a point as well as an
unmanageable amount of bureaucracy because every single activity of an
enterprise would have to be documented. For companies, however, legal certainty,
predictability
and as little bureaucracy as possible are essential
conditions in order to be able to thrive.

 

·        
On
the other hand, GRTU fully agrees with the content of article 11 which
urges the Member States to encourage dialogue with the relevant stakeholders.
From GRTU’s point of view, dialogue is the best possible
way to deal with a phenomenon like discrimination and to create a
discrimination-free society. It should be the role of the European Commission
and the public authorities in the Member States to encourage and
facilitate the dialogue between all parties that are concerned.

 

12. 
Furthermore, GRTU would like to stress that the commerce sector is very
open towards dialogue and many enterprises already engage regularly in dialogue
with stakeholders of all kinds on a voluntary basis in order to take due
account of societal needs. Eventually, it is in the companies’ own interest to
attract a wide range of customers. Given the aging society, coupled with an
increasing number of people with special physical needs, many stores have, for
instance, al-ready adapted their sales area and their range of products.

 

13. 
To conclude, GRTU would also like to remind the European Commission of
its commitments that it has made in the Small Business Act and the Better
Regulation Strategy
. Instead of creating additional layers of legislation,
the European Commission should focus on consolidating and simplifying existing
laws and cutting red tape wherever possible. Hence, for GRTU it is
indispensable to strive for equilibrium between legislative measures against
discrimination and the needs and interests of business, in particular SMEs.

 

CONCLUSION

 

1. GRTU cannot tolerate
discrimination but at the same time, it does not approve the directive proposal
of the European Commission because GRTU considers the proposal too vague and
impractical. Enterprises in the commerce sector, and in particular SMEs, need a
stable environment with legal predictability and less bureaucracy
in order to be able to thrive.

 

2. Therefore, instead of creating
additional layers of legislation which might not lead to the commonly desired
results, GRTU advocates non-legislative measures and an intensified
dialogue
between all stakeholders in order to raise awareness and to
exchange best practices. This dialogue should be facilitated by the European
Commission and the public authorities in the Member States.

 

3. GRTU calls on the European
Commission, the Council and the European Parliament to take commerce’s concerns
into account and to assure that the following legislative process will have a proportionate
and counterbalanced out-come
.

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