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It mostly covers my work as UNISON Scotland's Head of Policy and Public Affairs although views are my own. For full coverage of UNISON Scotland's policy and campaigns please visit our web site. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Democratic socialism can amount to a "philosophical belief" under Equality Act

I don't normally blog on the legal side of my job, but I thought this Employment Tribunal decision would be of wider interest.

Mr Olivier was a jobcentre worker and as a civil servant he was required to get written permission before taking up any political activity. He was sacked after he stood in council elections as a Labour Party candidate and for having a letter published in the local newspaper criticising the UK Government's tax policy.

He claimed unfair dismissal and religion or belief discrimination based on his "democratic socialist" views as a long-standing Labour Party member. The tribunal therefore had to consider whether or not his belief in "democratic socialism" can amount to a "philosophical belief" under the Equality Act 2010.

There was little dispute that he had a long standing history as a political activist. He had been an active member of the Labour Party for over 30 years and had stood and campaigned in many elections. He had also organised local campaigns against hospital closures and had featured in local newspapers as a result of his campaigning.

Mr Olivier argued that the Labour Party is not just an organisation, but enshrines a core set of recognisable beliefs that he described as "democratic socialism". This is also a description used on Labour Party membership cards. He stressed that his strong belief in these values influences how he conducts his life.

The employment tribunal applied the tests set out in the leading case on beliefs (Grainger plc v Nicholson [2010] IRLR 4 EAT), it must:

be genuinely held;
be a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available;
be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and
be worthy of respect in a democratic society, be not incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

Applying these tests to Mr Olivier's case, the tribunal felt that Mr Olivier has more than a passing interest in, and is more than a repeat voter for, the Labour Party. He has a strong interest in, and connection with, the history and moral tenets of the Labour Party. This affects how he lives his life. He has a philosophical belief in democratic socialism that goes beyond merely being a "political animal" who supports a particular political party. They therefore agreed that Mr Olivier's "democratic socialist" views could be a "philosophical belief" under the Equality Act 2010.

In this case there was little evidence to suggest that he had been discriminated against because of his beliefs. The tribunal believed that the likely reason for dismissal was his failure to obtain permission from his employer before standing as a political candidate. 

None the less the legal point is an interesting one and could apply to members of other political parties who can show a level of belief similar to Mr Oliver.

While on the subject of employment tribunals, it seems that claims have fallen sharply following the introduction of tribunal fees. Claims peaked in July at 7,307, plummeting to around 1,000 in September. So as UNISON and others predicted, the underlying trend revealed by these statistics is a massive collapse in the number of individual claimants. The judgment in the challenge to tribunal fees by UNISON is likely to be published this month. 

Access to justice in ConDem Britain is only available to those with the means to pay.

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