Victims do not take advantage of the law

A year after the law banning discrimination was enacted, the Citizens’ Advocate’s Bureau, which is the official state agency for ensuring equality in the state sector, has released a report containing several cases of unequal treatment. The Equal Treatment Commission, which belongs to the Justice Ministry, and the Labor Inspectorate (SEPE) have undertaken to promote equal treatment in the private sector, although they are not independent authorities as required by European Union directives. The commission, headed by the general secretary of the Justice Ministry, was not set up until November 30, 2005, and has only convened twice. No charges have been lodged with it as yet. The Labor Inspectorate is in charge of cases concerning respect for equal treatment in places of employment in the private sector, but so far has not shown any interest. Typically, a SEPE staff member told Kathimerini that on February 17, 2006, a circular had been sent to regional bureaus instructing them to inform the central office of any cases coming under the law. Although it has the authority to impose penalties for violation of the law (which the Citizens’ Advocate’s Bureau does not), it has chosen to restrict itself to collecting data. On the job Nevertheless it is common knowledge that unequal treatment at work is an everyday occurrence, either due to age (many employers refuse to hire anyone over 50 even if they qualify for the job) or sex, particularly regarding women who are planning to become mothers. Implementation of the law needs public opinion and non-government organizations to be mobilized. Still, even though NGOs were well aware of the provisions of the law even before it was enacted, very few cases have been referred to the Citizens’ Advocate’s Bureau, and none at all to the Equal Treatment Commission. Also conspicuous by their absence have been the two main umbrella unions (the General Confederation of Greek Workers and the Civil Servants’ Union), which could encourage victims of discrimination to have recourse to the authorities. «People are unaware, but even if they weren’t, there wouldn’t be a larger flow of cases,» said Andreas Takis, assistant citizens’s advocate for human rights. «In my opinion, there is a feeling that the new institutional framework is more symbolic than practical. Legislation of this kind needs the right environment, and this kind of environment does not yet exist in Greece. It calls for a very strong civil society in which reactions to discrimination are instinctive. «When harassment (and I don’t mean just of the sexual kind) is seen as a tasteless joke and does not provoke a reaction within society, it is difficult for a case of discrimination to reach authorities such as us in the form of a complaint. Someone has to have been the victim of very severe discrimination in order to take legal action. There are such cases, but usually the victims have no adequate knowledge of the legal channels open to them,» he added. «So those who could bring their complaints to organizations such as ours are not willing to do so. Meanwhile their representative organizations and NGOs do not seem to trust the effectiveness of the new framework.» The Citizens’ Advocate report, meanwhile, notes that the «relative inaction should be a source of concern for the relevant ministries for Justice, Labor and the Interior, and mobilize them to provide incentives and support, perhaps financial support, for reliable organizations that have shown themselves to be effective in advising, supporting and representing victims in their dealings with the relevant authorities.» As a step toward dealing with the problem, the Citizens’ Advocate Bureau is to issue a booklet aimed at fighting discrimination, particularly in the state sector.