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Anti-discrimination laws have 'fallen behind' rest of UK

Northern Ireland has "fallen behind" the rest of the UK in enacting anti-discrimination legislation, according to an employment law expert.

Michael Rubenstein, editor of Equality Law Reports, said a failure to enact legislation similar to the Equality Act of last year meant there were "significant gaps" between protection offered to employers and employees here compared to the rest of the UK.

Mr Rubenstein, who was in Belfast as a guest of the Employment Lawyers Group and the Equality Commission, said harassment was one area where a disparity existed.

"The Great Britain legislation, for example, provides a freestanding right to complain about harassment across a number of grounds, includes a wider and more effective definition of disability discrimination, prohibits perceived and associative discrimination, outlaws age discrimination in provision of goods and services and imposes a wider equality duty on public authorities."

Barrister Mark McEvoy said the contrast in laws was making it harder for tribunal chairmen and judges in the province to apply case law which was being developed by courts elsewhere in Britain.

"As practitioners working daily in the tribunals, we would strongly encourage the government here to adopt a similar approach and implement a single equality bill.

"At a time where jobs are hard to come by, employment protections are extremely important.

"Legislation should be both simple and practical for tribunals to implement and for employers and employees to be aware of their rights and responsibilities".

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