On the 18th of June, the European Parliament Platform for Secularism in Politics took place. This time the Platform dealt with the implementation of the Directive on equal treatment in employment. Moreover, light was shed in specific on the case of Germany, given that the church is the second largest employer in Germany.
The purpose of the meeting was to get better insight into the implementation of the Directive on equal treatment in employment and occupation and its challenges. Although there is EU-wide protection against discrimination in employment, people view themselves frequently discriminated in this area. Moreover, due to the financial and structural crisis in Europe, the level of unemployment among many groups, in particular young people, including those with disabilities, and older people is increasing.
Mr Stein, Head of Unit of DG Justice of the European Commission, spoke at first and gave an in-depth description of the wording and functioning of the Directive. In specific paragraph 2 of article 4 received attention, since this paragraph gives churches the possibility to have flexibility without having an autonomous position. Mr Stein also explained that several infringements have occurred in a few Member States because of the wording in the national law that was not completely in line with the Directive on European level.
According to Ms Corinna Gekeler who released the study “Loyal dienen” (Serving Loyal), sponsored by the International League Of Non-Religious And Atheists (IBKA), this infringement also takes place in Germany. Germany did not succeed to transpose the Directive on several points and the national law became thereby too vague. Ms Gekelers´opinion is that the churches and politicians should acknowledge more that this current interpretation of the national constitutional law has discriminative tendencies.
Mr Twardy, head of Collective Bargaining of the labour association for doctors in Germany, the Marburger Bund, explained that there are at the moment 1.2 million people employed by the church in Germany. Caritas with about 435 institutes and Diakonie with about 220 institutes, control together a major part onthe German health care system job market According to Mr Twardy, the current situation of the health care in Germany is unconstitutional and has a lack of social pacification competition.
Former German MP and current spokesperson of the Campaign against religious discrimination on the workplace (GerDiA), Ms Matthäus-Maier, added to the presentation that a job position that origins in the ecclesiastical labour law brings along that the employee needs to be loyal to the church both in private and work-related spheres and that he or she is for example not allowed to leave the church.
Ms Matthäus-Maier gave a few examples of cases to thereby illustrate the current situation in Germany. Homosexual people must not show their sexual orientation because they run the risk of a dismissal. So a lesbian women that has a child, did not receive the rights under the ecclesiastical labour law to have the child related holidays as a heterosexual family would get. At German Universities, students that are not member of a church, are sometimes advised not to start with studying Medicine or social work, since they will have a fairly small chance to eventually find a job within the German health care system. Besides, it is often shown that for example Muslim nurses (also every member of an “non-Christian” religion) are having a harder time to find a job than Christian nurses, due to these ecclesiastical labour regulations.
Concluding remarks of the speakers showed that there is need to have more cases in this specific area, that more attention, education and publicity on this matter is necessary to receive more support for change and that the European Commission should step up more clearly and strongly to resolve the problems that come along with the flexibility that is given to Churches in the Directive on equal treatment in employment and occupation on both national and European level.