In February 2016, the Minister for European Affairs and Equality put forward, for eventual parliamentary approval, two legislative proposals: the Equality Act 2015 and the Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2015.
The Bills were, in many aspects, aimed at replacing current simple and effective labour laws, which are fully compliant with all EU directives.
At the time, the Malta Employers’ Association took a very good look at the proposals and discovered extensive tracts that were simply unacceptable to its members.
A strong opposition was put up since the proposals were riddled with inadmissible legal irregularities.
The inspiration behind these proposals seems to be originating from lobby groups that appear to consider employers as prevalently and constantly inclined to exploit, discriminate against and harass employees.
As this negative and distorted view of employers is encouraged, there follows a push to introduce drastic legislation to curb and neutralise these presumed evil inclinations of employers. In fact, a close examination of the 2016 proposals does reveal an angry and unjustified contempt, by extreme fringes, towards employers.
Among so many negative features, the 2016-proposed Bills included the creation of a lay commissioner (potentially legally illiterate), endowed with the power and authority to investigate, accuse, prosecute, judge and condemn an employer.
The proposed commissioner was to have the power to fine a witness, deemed recalcitrant, up to €1,500 and impose a three-month imprisonment.
The presumed offending employer, was to fare much worse, facing a maximum fine of €5,000 and up to six months in prison.
The MEA had immediately pointed out to the ministry that what was being put forward was simply erroneous and legally inadmissible. Still, the mere presentation of such a proposal, subsequently moderated, did reveal an anti-employer animosity that appears out of control.
That possible employer equality and discrimination transgressions should have attracted such serious punishments was, to say the least, distorted, unfair and vindictive. More seriously in breach of decent concepts of natural justice (and, ironically, basic human rights), there were other proposed negative measures.
The MEA shall repeat what it said in 2016: it is against the concept of the “reversal of the burden of proof” principle, whereby it is being proposed that, in respect of any offence involving discrimination and equality, the presumed offender (the employer) is a priori to be deemed guilty and has to prove his/her innocence.
An anti-employer animosity appears out of control
The right to be considered innocent unless and until one’s guilt is proven in a properly-constituted court of law (not through an improvised commission) is a fundamental human right.
Even the most vicious of criminals caught in flagrante committing a murder is given the facility to declare him/herself innocent and will be considered as such until the prosecution manages to prove his/her guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
It seems that extremist members of gay and feminist lobby groups believe this right should be denied to an employer.
This way of reasoning is outrageous and more so when the punishments planned to be dished out by the proposed commissioner were of an entity that, according to law, only a properly-constituted court of law could administer.
Not just employers but also normal citizens should wake up to the danger of laws, frivolously promulgated, without much thought to legality and repercussions and which will give rise to abuse of power, vexation and persecution.
Employers have been served notice that the two Bills, withdrawn in 2016, are being re-proposed in 2018, presumably with some changes. Only one of them, the Equality Act 2018, has so far been passed on to the social partners for their views.
A cursory look at this “fresh” Equality Act already reveals a persistence of fundamentally-contentious and unacceptable passages in the draft as well as legal inconsistencies and contradictions.
Confusion is being introduced in respect of jurisdictions of the First Hall Civil Court and the Industrial Tribunal.
Authority overlapping is evident in respect of the Director of Labour and Industrial Relations and the Equality and Human Rights Commissioner.
Since every vote counts, we all know that politicians go, in particular, after votes of marginal groups that could tip a balance.
If such marginal groups have a case, then, by all means let corrective action take place, however, such interventions must not impinge on the inalienable rights of other groups or particular citizens.
There is a spreading feeling among the public that certain people, residing in extreme fringes of particular lobbies, are overstepping a limit. Such people must bring their absurd sense of outrage under control and stop threateningly throwing their weight about.
Arthur Muscat is vice president of the Malta Employers’ Association.