Political discrimination in employment law

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008 - Uncategorized

In light of the news tonight that a former Welsh employee of the British National Party has published the entire 2007 membership database of 10,000 people on the internet – some current members, some past members – I think it is worth a quick review of discrimination law and how it effects employment in the UK.

However, firstly a quick legal statement. As both employment law and internet law is covered by certain legislation in the UK, and as the list contains individuals personal information which is covered under the Data Protection Act, there is a potential breach of UK law, and as the publication of this list is subject to a complaint by the BNP party leader Nick Griffin to Dyfed Powys Police who are presently investigating, I will not be making a link to the source or any duplications of the list from this blog. If you find such a link, this has been placed here in error, and I request that you inform me immediately of this link which will be removed as quickly as possible. If any comments are inserted which include links to the source list or copies therefore, they will also be removed as quickly as possible. It is therefore requested that you do not place links in comments which link to such sources. I will also freely state that I am not nor have never been a member or sympathiser of the BNP, and have only ever been a member of the UK Labour Party by default when a member of the Post Office Telecoms Union between 1979 and 1982, when I opted out of paying the political levy.

There are clear laws and excellent legal precedents on many potential issues of employment discrimination on many issues, including sex, age, race, disability and religeon. You may not agree with some of these, but personally I think these are good laws for the entire UK population and its long term harmony, and employment. From a business view point as well, these laws are excellent – your market probably has many different people represented, and addressing the needs contained within these laws means you should resultantly be able to address your market in a better manner.

However, one potential area of discrimination not addressed in these specific laws, or the generic law of the UK or the EU, is political discrimination.

Employees have the enshrined legal right to join a trade union, thanks to the Labour government of Tony Blair which repealed the majority of the Trade Union law installed by Margaret Thatchers Conservatives. However, there is no direct legislation in England, Wales or Scotland which protects a person from political discrimination in the work place, but there is such legislation in Northern Ireland.

An employee has the right to join a trade union, and should not be refused a job, dismissed, harassed or selected for redundancy because they are a member of or want to join a trade union. A member of a trade union has the right to take part in its activities, whether it is recruiting members or attending meetings.

Some employees face dismissal in certain defined jobs on the grounds of evidence of membership of some political activities, including the BNP. This includes certain government jobs, which for the BNP members since 2004 includes not being able to be a police officer: “This is because such membership would be incompatible with our duty to promote equality under the Race Relations Amendment Act and would damage the confidence of minority communities” has commented Peter Fahy, of the Association of Chief Police Officers.

Northern Ireland:
Inequality between Catholics and Protestants in employment was a key issue at the heart of the conflict in Northern Ireland. Over a long period, successive administrations introduced fair employment legislation, outlawing discrimination in employment on the grounds of religion or political opinion.

The Fair Employment and Treatment (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 introduced far-reaching provisions on equality. It imposed duties on public authorities to have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity across diverse situations and identities, and regard to the desirability of promoting good relations between persons of different religious belief, political opinion or racial group.

In the whole of Northern Ireland, it is illegal to discriminate against anyone, including a child or young person, on the grounds of religious or political belief. If a person has suffered religious discrimination they may be able to take action against the organisation or individual responsible.

The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland has more information on political discrimination, and publishes an excellent booklet.

European legislation:
The only piece of legislation where discrimination against individual’s political belief may be protected is under the European Union Human Rights Act, which became part of British law in 1998, although there is no specific legislation regarding political discrimination under the act. Examples where part of the act could work are:

– Article 10: Freedom of expression
– Article 11: Freedom of assembly and association

How these are interpreted by the courts remains unclear, but an example where a person may not be discriminated against, using Article 10 or 11, could be when taking part in any demonstrations.

Suggested actions:
On all occasions where you feel you may have been discriminated against, your first point of call should be to a employment law specialist solicitor. If you can’t find one, then use the Law Society website “Find a Solicitor” service using Employment Law as a pre selection. Often, initial consultations are free (always check first), and it is quick to discover if you have a case. If discrimination is suggested, then in many cases there are multiple grounds of discrimination – ie: disability and sexual. Always follow your solicitors advice in such cases, and do nothing without prior consultation or their agreement – you are paying them, so take their advice.

If your name is on this published list, them I recommended that you complain in writing to the website where you found the listing as well as their listed ISP service provider/hosting company.

If you are no longer a member of the BNP, but your name appears on the list, then when you next go to work ask for a meeting with your manager and/or the HR manager. Explain that you are no longer a member, which they may request to be followed up in writing – don’t do this until asked to do so. The reason for this is that if you are dismissed after the date of your resignation from the BNP, then the reason for your dismissal can not be political – discrimination can not be applied retrospectively.

Good Luck!

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