Thursday, 8 December 2022

Determined discrimination against members of the Roma national minority in the field of work

The Commissioner for the Protection of Equality, following a complaint from Praxis, found that the Sports Company "Radnički doo" from Kragujevac violated the provisions of Articles 6 and 12, and in connection with Article 24 of the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination because it discriminated against Roma female employees on the basis of their nationality by canceling their employment and because the behavior of the employees at the Center for Sports and Recreation of Persons with Disabilities "Iskra" in Kragujevac, which operates within the Sports Company Radnički doo, created a humiliating and offensive environment.

In addition, the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality recommended that the Sports company Radnički doo from Kragujevac remove the consequences of discriminatory treatment by rehiring the victims of discrimination, as well as to send them a written apology for the discriminatory treatment of the company and its employees. Furthermore, it was recommended to organize training for all employees of the company on the topic of prohibition and protection against discrimination, with special reference to the position and challenges faced by the Roma population, as well as to ensure that in the future, when carrying out their work, they do not violate the provisions of anti-discrimination regulations.

Besides representing a form of satisfaction for the complainants themselves, the opinion of the Commissioner for Protection of Equality in this case undoubtedly sends a strong message to all members of society about unacceptable and prohibited behaviors and actions that are discriminatory. This is particularly significant considering that numerous relevant sources show a high degree of exposure of members of the Roma national minority to discrimination, as well as the fact that it is often multiple and covert and particularly present in the field of work and employment. In this regard, we believe it is extremely important to emphasize that, when analyzing the facts and issuing the decision, the Commissioner applied the of rule of shifting the burden of proof from Article 45 of the Law on the Prohibition of Discrimination, and, when considering whether the complainants made an act of discrimination probable, the Commissioner took into account statistical data and the results of research on the position of Roma men and women in the society and the social distance towards them.

The complainants, members of the Roma national minority, were employed in mid-2019 in the aforementioned company on cleaning and maintenance, as part of the measure of work activation of work capable beneficiaries of financial social assistance. In the second half of 2021, after a change in the management structure in the company, there were changes in the attitude towards the complainants, but also towards other employed women of Roma nationality, in that the communication of superiors with them was reduced or completely absent, unfounded remarks were made verbally on their work, efforts were also made to reduce their contact with other staff members of the company in various ways, they were provided with special coffee cups, and, on December 3, 2021, one complainant was informed in a telephone conversation that the need for her work engagement and that of other Roma women had ended, while the need to hire a non-Roma gardener, who was employed at the same time as the four female Roma, had not ended. Trying to justify its actions, and responding to the allegations of the complaint, the company pointed out that the need for engagement of these women in hygiene maintenance had ended due to the reduction in the volume of work due to the pandemic and the conclusion of a hygiene maintenance contract with an agency based on the conducted public procurement. They further justified separating coffee cups as a "precautionary measure" due to the pandemic. However, analyzing the aforementioned allegations, the Commissioner concluded that the company had not provided evidence supporting these claims, since the company did not conduct an analysis that would precede the rationalization of the number of employees. On the contrary, at the time when there was an alleged reduction in the scope of work, the company concluded a contract with a hygiene maintenance agency, resulting in both the complainants and the employees of the agency working on these jobs at the same time. In addition, the company’s statement that it was obliged to carry out public procurement as per the regulations, because it is a user of public funds, cannot justify the said action because it is completely unclear why the public procurement was carried out only in 2021, and not in 2019 when the complainant's engagement began. In addition, there has never been public procurement for the job of the gardener. To sum it up, the company did not submit evidence from which it could be concluded that the termination of the complainants’ employment was due to the obligation to carry out public procurement, nor due to a reduction in the volume of work because of the pandemic, nor that the termination of the complainants’ employment was justified and necessary, and that it was not caused by the nationality of the complainants.

In addition, in relation to the attitude of other employees towards the complainants, i.e. separating them from other staff, preventing them from using common rooms and insisting that they drink coffee from special cups, the company did not submit evidence from which it could be unambiguouosly determined that the reason for such behavior was health protection since the company did not adopt an act prescribing such measures or other evidence indicating that such measures apply to all employees. Analyzing the allegations of the complaint, the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality also took into account the fact that the decision to terminate the employment was communicated by telephone without providing additional explanation or the opportunity for the complainants to express their opinion on it. 

Considering the significance of this decision, we must not forget that the areas of work and employment are particularly important for the Roma population, bearing in mind that work that generates income, on the one hand increases economic independence and personal and family standards. On the other hand, employment has a special effect on socialization and their social participation. At the same time, the entry of members of the Roma national minority into the work process and the working environment itself changes the attitudes of that environment, assuring it of the economic justification of inclusion, and thus prevents further prejudices and stereotypes. 

We are convinced that the strong arguments that are contained in the explanation of the decision of the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality in this case will contribute to the prevention of discrimination towards individuals and groups belonging to different sensitive groups of society, as well as that it will empower numerous members of the Roma national minority to seek protection of their rights before this institution.

You may find the opinion of the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality here.

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