MANAGING ANTI-DISCRIMINATION AT FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS
At a recent concluding seminar held in Brussels and coordinated by Federazione Autonoma Bancari Italiani (FABI), it was stressed that anti-discrimination practices should come more to light on the place of work. The Malta Union of Bank Employees – MUBE partnered eight other European Banking Unions which were invited to attend workshop and training sessions with the intention of testing levels of knowledge and approach seeking best practices in managing anti-discrimination at financial institutions. For this concluding session, the employers present for the roundtable discussions where represented by the Diversity managers of two global Banks through UNICREDIT Austria and HSBC Group Malta. This project was funded by the EU – Director General – Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities.
Anti-discrimination policy is one of the major priorities of the European Union (EU). In fact, it has been enshrined in the Treaty of Amsterdam, stating that the EU ‘is founded on the principles of liberty, democracy and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms’, and that the European Community should take ‘appropriate action to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.’
The EU Commission representative kicked off the roundtable discussion by confirming that the EU is totally behind the proposal of implementing an effective process of social dialogue on anti-discrimination protection within the banking sector. During the conference, it was emphasized the need for training in this bailiwick. Promotion of knowledge of EU legislation on anti-discrimination, making the correlate role of collective bargaining and negotiation practices known, and searching effective industrial relations practices on anti-discrimination in the banking sector should be part of the lifeblood of trade unions, employers and also employees. This is crucial since discrimination can take different forms, such as direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and victimization.
Certain forms of discrimination may be easily justified however other forms such as indirect discrimination may be difficult to perceive. Thus, management and trade unions should be well aware of the various types of discrimination to prevent discriminatory acts and also to have the right cognition in dealing with a discriminatory situation.
In fact, anti-discrimination procedures differ from one case to another. For example, in certain circumstances victims of discrimination are so vulnerable that their case cannot be handled by courts. In response to these scenarios, equality bodies are introduced within the labour market. Each EU member state has to provide a system where the equality body is given access to discriminatory cases, hence these bodies are in a position to evaluate discriminatory acts, make recommendations, and enable victims with the necessary aid. Equality bodies are already being enforced in certain EU countries, however within the coming years all EU member states have to implement the EU Directive concerning the introduction of equality bodies. Through these bodies, trade unions may also present their cases in courts if the need arises.
The EU also promotes integration and social justice within the labour market vis-à-vis discriminatory measures. Integration should also acknowledge new aspects happening on the place of work, such as immigration. In certain countries, trade unions are already providing support to those employees who become victims of discrimination due to their immigration status. For example, Belgium and Spain are distributing booklets for immigrants to furnish them with necessary information. In the same vein, some EU member states have diversity charters which facilitate harmony at workplaces in today’s changing world. Speakers at the conference stressed the need for more attention to discriminatory acts within the financial services sector throughout all EU member states.
Turning to the equality aspect, it was emphasized that the law should not distinguish between one citizen and another on the basis of sexual orientation, religious beliefs, ethnicity and/or work roles. Protection should be equally given to each and every citizen. Every human-being have an absolute value, everyone is distinct and unique, signifying that every person offers an infinite value to the financial institution, thus employees deserve to be equal. Equality is a value which must be an objective of every financial institution while discrimination is an action that should be fought against.
During the conference, it was also divulged that discrimination may be the cause of cultural issues. Any financial institution should take the opportunity to manage diversity and cultural differences while enforcing best practice throughout the horizontal and vertical lines within the company. Diversity must be looked at positively, since it makes exchange of the human society possible. In other words, employees can perform different tasks, a phenomenon which makes human society far mature than animal society leading to the human development. Through diversity, people co-operate with one another, thus serving as the basis of building teamwork among employees. Many times, work requires different tasks and skills and this is achieved through diversity as an entailment of a peaceful exchange and cooperation. In this way, a healthy environment and a stable atmosphere tend to be generated in the financial institution.
Speakers during the conference indicated that it is the state’s primary responsibility to safeguard those who are affected by discrimination. This means that more welfare will be needed to sustain these ongoing protective measures which may act as a burden on government budgets. Thus, it is of utmost importance that trade unions complemented by financial institutions assess the interests of employers and employees while encouraging more social dialogue within the internal market. In other words, prevention is better than cure.
Training in the area of anti-discrimination is a need for employees, employers and trade unionists. It is critical that they widen their knowledge in the discipline of discriminatory issues, in order to know what to search for in detecting discriminatory cases and also to learn how to deal with such cases. The delegates insisted that combating discrimination within financial institutions is a necessity, and it is vital that employees are aware that trade unions have the necessary tools to help the victims of discrimination to plow with their cases.
SOLANGE JEANNE MIFSUD is the official International representative of the Malta Union of Bank Employees – MUBE and works at Bank of Valletta p.l.c.