Union joins call to stop religious discrimination

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has welcomed new Public and Commercial Services (PCS) Union policy to protect and promote equality and human rights in contracted-out public services – including those services contracted to religious organisations.

Naomi Phillips, BHA Public Affairs Officer, said, ‘This is the first recognition by a union of the particular problems posed to values of equality and human rights when public services are contracted to religious organisations – a policy which is being encouraged across government.’

‘Unlike other organisations, religious organisations have exceptions from the law which allow them to discriminate in various ways against staff and service users, even when working under contract to provide services on behalf of a public authority. There isn’t even any provision in law to prevent them from proselytising when providing services. We believe that the special privileges afforded to religious organisations should not apply when they are contracted to provide the statutory public services to which we are all entitled. There can be no reason why public service jobs which would otherwise be open to any suitably qualified person regardless of their personal religious or non-religious beliefs could be reserved only for religious people, if the service is contracted to a religious organisation.’

‘The TUC has already set out its concerns to government and others about the issues specific to the contracting out of public services to religious organisations. It is a significant step forward for a large union such as the PCS to make clear in its own policy that religious organisations must operate to the same high standards as other public service providers, and be non-discriminatory and totally inclusive in terms of their staffing and their delivery – or not be awarded a contract if they do not wish to.’

Richard Exell, Senior Policy Officer at the TUC, said, ‘We’ve been concerned for some time about the implications of contracting out Jobcentre Plus services to religious-based organisations without any protections against discrimination for clients and staff. No matter how well-intentioned the people in these organisations may be, it’s a matter of principle that a modern society should make sure that its services are provided fairly and equally.’

Sandra Durkin, Branch Secretary for the PCS LSC West Midlands branch, said ‘I do not object to working with faith groups per se, but I strongly object to public money to deliver public services being given to organisations which discriminate on grounds of religion or belief’.

NOTES

For further comment or information, contact Naomi Phillips on 020 7079 3585, 07779 703242.

The British Humanist Association represents and supports the non-religious. It is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief, and for a secular state.

Read the BHA’s report on the contracting out of public services to religious organisations, ‘Quality and Equality: Human Rights, Public Services and Religious Organisations’.

The PCS union passed motion A10 at its annual conference, which instructs its National Executive Committee ‘to continue to support the delivery of public services within the public sector where employees/service users will be covered by equality and human rights legislation’ and ‘to oppose the allocation of public funds to any organisation which cannot demonstrate that it is fully committed to policies on employment and service delivery which are totally inclusive and unbiased unless there is a very clear Genuine Occupational Requirement’.

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) is the fifth largest trade union in the UK, with over 300,000 members. It is organised throughout the civil service and government agencies, making it the UK’s largest civil service trade union.