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Employment regulations confront religious discrimination in the workplace

1 December 2003

New employment legislation to prevent discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief in the workplace came into force in the UK on 02 December. The new regulations were required to conform with the European Employment Directive, and affect every stage of the employment relationship from recruitment to dismissal. The regulations make it unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of religion or belief and have been broadly welcomed by faith communities despite some reservations over their implementation and possible negative repercussions.

The legislation, while clearly including Christians, Muslims and Jews in its definition of ‘religion or belief’, is less clear with regard to other faiths or belief groups, which may lead to question marks and potential problems. However, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has welcomed the new legislation and progress towards full equality. In a positive step, the MCB, together with other Muslim institutions and the DTI, have undertaken a joint awareness raising initiative to ensure that both employees and employers are fully aware of the implications of the legislation.

On the eve of the new legislation, a London Islamic centre has launched an exhibition ‘Experience Islam’ to encourage inter-community understanding. The event, hosted by Muslim Welfare House, hopes to begin to dismantle some of the myths and prejudices that lead to tensions and misunderstanding. A key focus of the exhibition is the positive roles and contributions that British Muslims have played in the history of Britain over the last 100 years. The launch event also emphasized the positive contribution of British Muslims in the realm of employment and the British economy, both as employees and increasingly as employers in their own right.

Home office Minister, Fiona MacTaggert, opened the event with a speech in which she welcomed the new employment legislation. She also congratulated Muslim Welfare House on its practical approach to confronting discrimination issues and promoting understanding, stressing the need for communities to meet and engage with each other in a spirit of good neighbourliness. Professor Humayan Ansari, author of the Minority Rights Group International report ‘Muslims in Britain’ delivered a passionate analysis of the past, present and possible future for Muslims in Britain. He drew attention to some current problems including persistent ‘Islamophobia’ in the media perpetuating negative stereotypes of Muslims as ‘extremist’ or ‘fundamentalist’, while the reality is that this element constitutes a ‘minute minority’.

Notes for editors

Download MRG’s report ‘Muslims in Britain‘.

For more information, contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].