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New law against discrimination

FROM SEPTEMBER 2006, discriminating against disabled people will lead to fines, and companies that practise a discriminatory act could be forced to close and their licences and authorisations suspended for two years.

The new Portuguese legislation has just been published in Diário da República, and comes three days after 192 countries voted in favour of a new United Nations Convention to protect the rights of the disabled.

The law considers the following to be discriminatory practices: “refusal or conditional selling, letting and subletting of property to a disabled person, access to bank credit of a disabled person to buy property and refusal or penalisation with regard to insurance applications for a disabled person.”  

In addition, other actions considered to be discriminatory are the refusal or prevention of the use of sign language, limiting access to buildings and public places and refusal or limiting of access to public transport, health care in public or private establishments and to public or private education establishments. Also included in the list of discriminatory actions is the limiting of access to new technology.

The newly published law considers an employer adopting a measure, or criteria, which undermines natural physical, mental or sensory factors discriminatory in the workplace and, in what concerns the offer of employment, the cancelling of a work contract or the refusal to offer a contract is also seen as discriminatory. The issuing and distribution of a job advertisement that contains, directly or indirectly, any specification or preference based on discriminatory factors relating to a deficiency will result in a fine.

However, under the law, the following actions will not be considered as being discriminatory: “If, by virtue of the nature of the professional activity concerned, or the context of its execution, the deficiency of the individual would affect their capability to perform essential tasks required to carry out the activity.” However, in such a case, “the handicap must be considered objectively and legitimately.”

Those who feel they have been discriminated against and take their case to court could receive compensation if the judgement goes in their favour, according to the new law. The accused, if found guilty, could be asked to pay compensation of between five and 10 times the amount of the national minimum salary in the case of an individual, while in the case of collective persons, between 20 and 30 times the national minimum salary. A repeat conviction would mean a compensation payment of double the amount.