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'Discrimination and Employment' from 'Perspectives on Discrimination and Social Work in Northern Ireland'
Text: F. Gibson, G. Michael and D. Wilson ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna
Discrimination and Employment
Darby, J. (1976) Conflict in Northern Ireland.
Dublin, Gill and Macmillan.
Equal Opportunities Review (1990) "Fair Employment in Northern
Ireland: Code of Practice". Equal Opportunities Review,
No. 30, pp. 34-39.
Gallagher, A.M. (1991) The Majority Minority Review No. 2.:
Employment, Unemployment and Religion in Northern Ireland. Coleraine,
University of Ulster.
McCormack, V. and O'Hare, J. (1989) Enduring Inequality: Religious
Discrimination in Employment in Northern Ireland. London,
National Council for Civil Liberties.
Smith, D.J. and Chambers, G. (1987) Equality and Inequality
in Northern Ireland. Part 1 Employment and Unemployment: Part
2 The Workplace: Part 3 Perception and Views. London, Policy
Smith, D.J. and Chambers, G. (1991) Inequality in Northern
Ireland. Oxford, Clarendon Press.
Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights (1990) Religious
and Political Discrimination and Equality of Opportunity in Northern
Ireland, Second Report. Cm 1107. London, HMSO.
Cormack, R.J., Osborne, R.D. and Thompson, W.T.
(1980) Into Work? Young School -Leavers and the Structure of
Opportunity in Belfast. Belfast, Fair Employment Agency.
Eversley, D. (1989) Religion and Employment in Northern Ireland.
Eversley, D. and Kerr, V. (1985) The Roman Catholic Population
of Northern Ireland in 1981: A Revised Estimate. Belfast,
Fair Employment Agency.
FEA (1987) Annual Report. London, HMSO.
FEA (1990) Annual Report. London, HMSO.
Jenkins, R. (1983) Lads, Citizens and Ordinary Kids: Working
Class Youth Life-Styles in Belfast. London, Routledge.
Maguire, M. (1986) "Recruitment as a Means of Control"
in Purcell, K. et al. The Changing Experience of Employment.
Maguire, M. (1989) What Price Women? A Study of Women's Employment
in the Retail Trade in Northern Ireland. Belfast, Equal Opportunities
Miller, R. L. (1978) Attitudes to Work in Northern Ireland.
Belfast, Fair Employment Agency.
Murray, D. and Darby, J. (1980) The Vocational Aspirations
and Expectations of School Leavers in Londonderry and Strabane.
Belfast, Fair Employment Agency.
McWhirter, L., Duffy, U., Barry, R. and McGuinness, G. (1987)
"Transition from School to Work: Cohort Evidence" in
Osborne, R.D., Cormack, R.J. and Miller, R.L. (eds), Education
and Policy in Northern Ireland. Belfast, Policy Research Institute.
Osborne, R.D. and Cormack, R.J. (1987) Religion, Occupation
and Employment 1971-81. Belfast, Fair Employment Agency.
Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, 55 Royal
Avenue, Belfast BT1 1TA.
This Commission advises the Secretary of State on the adequacy
and effectiveness of the law in preventing discrimination on the
grounds of religious belief or political opinion.
Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration and Commissioner
for Complaints, Windsor House, Bedford Street, Belfast (0232)
321442; Foyle Street, Londonderry (0504) 264861; Progressive House,
Wellington Place, Belfast BT1 (0232) 233821.
The Ombudsman has the function of investigating complaints about
maladministration within any of the Northern Ireland government
departments, Health and Social Services Boards, Housing Executive,
Electricity Service and the Council for Nurses and Midwives.
Fair Employment Commission, Andreas House, 60 Great Victoria
Street, Belfast BT2 7BB (0232) 240020.
This Commission is empowered to investigate and review employment
practices of any public or private sector employer in Northern
Ireland at any time and to order affirmative action to be taken
Fair Employment Tribunals, Central Office of Industrial
Tribunals, Bedford House, Bedford Street, Belfast (0232) 327666.
These tribunals hear individual cases of discrimination and appeals
against the directions of the Fair Employment Commission. Tribunals
are empowered to impose cash penalties or refer to the High Court
where necessary. Tribunals also have the power to award damages
to individuals and to specify action to remedy proven discrimination.
Labour Relations Agency (LRA), Windsor House, Bedford
Street, Belfast BT2 (0232) 321442; 3 Foyle Street, Londonderry
Established under the Industrial Relations (NI) Order 1976, the
LRA has the duty to promote improvement of industrial relations
and encouragement of collective bargaining. It provides mainly
conciliation and arbitration services.
Health and Safety Agency (HSA) for Northern Ireland, Canada
House, North Street, Belfast BT1 (0232) 243249.
The HSA was established by the Health and Safety at Work (NI)
Order 1978. Its purpose is to review health and safety at work,
and to make recommendations to the appropriate bodies such as
Government departments or district councils.
Committee on the Administration of Justice, 45 Donegall
Square East, Belfast BT9 6GE (0232) 232394.
This is an independent body, established by the Society of Friends.
It collects material on issues relating to justice in Northern
Ireland and acts as a resource for researchers, the media and
the public as well as acting as a pressure group.
In respect of employment the following terms are commonly used:
1.1 Negative Discrimination
(1) Direct discrimination in relation to
employment means "treating someone less favourably on the
grounds of his religious belief or political opinion than the
person concerned would treat someone else in the same circumstances",
e.g. Mr A is not given the job because he is Catholic.
(2) Unconscious direct discrimination means "looking
after one's own". Employers have a natural and understandable
predisposition to give preferential treatment to those from their
own community, with whom they would have various links. This is
not intentional discrimination, but, nevertheless, is still illegal,
e.g. Mr A gets the job, because his family is well known in the
area, and some relatives already work for the firm.
(3) Indirect discrimination in relation to employment means
introducing a requirement or condition which places members of
one religious group at a disadvantage in obtaining employment
or within the workplace, e.g. putting up Union Jacks in the workplace.
1.2 Positive Discrimination
(1) Reverse discrimination in relation to
employment means that the fact of belonging to the minority group
becomes a requirement or condition of employment, e.g. two candidates
may otherwise have equal qualifications for a job, but Mr A gets
it because he is a Catholic and Catholics are in the minority
in this particular firm.
The quota system is linked to the concept of reverse discrimination.
Under this system an employer would be required (or encouraged)
by law to employ a certain proportion from the minority community,
e.g. all employers with 20 or more employees have a duty to employ
a "quota" of registered disabled people. The quota system
does not apply to any other minority group.
Reverse discrimination is illegal (except in relation to disability)
in the UK, but is often postulated, in discussions about sex or
religious inequalities in employment, as a means of redressing
(2) Affirmative action means that employers are requested
not just to obey the letter of the law, but to take positive steps
to ensure that equality of opportunity is practised.
Employers have been encouraged to operate equality of opportunity
in a number of ways to date:
(a) by subscribing to the Declaration of Principle and Intent.
The 1976 Fair Employment Act required the Fair Employment
Agency to invite all organisations covered by the Act to subscribe
voluntarily to a Declaration of Principle and Intent, whereby
they agree to promote the principle of equality of opportunity.
(b) by operating the merit principle. This means that criteria
for recruitment, selection and promotion are strictly job related
(c) by monitoring employees. The Fair Employment Commission (formerly
Fair Employment Agency) has a legal responsibility to ensure that
all registered employers (from 1992 all employers with 10 or more
employees) submit annual returns showing the religious composition
of their workforce.
2. Legislation in Relation to Fair Employment
- 1920 The Government of Ireland Act, Section 5 (i) provided
that the Parliament of Northern Ireland could not
give a preference, privilege or advantages, or impose any disability
or disadvantage, on account of religious belief.
In addition preferences and disabilities were prohibited on account
of religious belief when executive power was exercised.
- 1969 The Report of the Cameron Commission concluded (para.
129) that the civil disturbances in 1968 and 1969 were associated
with a sense of injustice related to complaints of discrimination
in housing and employment, and to the unwillingness of Government
to accept and investigate these complaints.
- 1969 The Downing Street Declaration recognised that
"every citizen of Northern Ireland is entitled to the same
equality of treatment and freedom from discrimination as obtains
in the rest of the United Kingdom". Public employment was
included as an area for attention.
- 1969 The Parliamentary Commissioner Act (NI) established
the offices of Northern Ireland Commissioner for Administration
and Commissioner for Complaints. Both are presently occupied by
one person known as the Ombudsman who is empowered to examine
complaints of maladministration including religious or political
maladministration by government departments, councils and public
- 1971 All government contractors were required to adhere
to the principles of fair employment. The Commissioner is given
a statutory duty to oversee the requirement.
- 1972 The Local Government Staff Commission was established
to help with senior appointments in local authorities.
- 1973 The Northern Ireland Constitution Act made void
any legislation created by the Northern Ireland Assembly which
discriminated against any person or class of person on the grounds
of religious belief or political opinion. The Statutory Advisory
Commission on Human Rights was created to advise the government
on the effectiveness of anti-discriminatory legislation.
- 1976 The Fair Employment (NI) Act resulted from a working
party which was set up to examine employment practices in the
private sector (the Van Straubenzee Report 1973). The Act makes
unlawful in relation to employment or occupations, to discriminate
on grounds of religion or political belief; to engage in any victimisation
of persons, publication of discriminatory advertisements; and
to incite anyone to commit an act of unlawful discrimination.
It provided for the creation of a Fair Employment Agency (FEA),
which had two functions:
(i) the elimination of unlawful discrimination on the grounds
of religious belief or political opinion;
(ii) the promotion of equality through "affirmative action",
i.e. positive action to promote equality of opportunity.
Employers were provided with a Code of Practice and asked to subscribe
to a Declaration of Commitment to the principle of equality of
opportunity. The FEA has the power to investigate complaints,
make recommendations and, if necessary, bring the offender to
The effectiveness of this legislation is severely limited because
it depends on a largely voluntary response. Employers are not
required to comply. They may even sign a declaration but no check
is made that they adhere to the principles of fair employment,
nor that they continue to do so. If an employee or applicant has
a complaint, the burden of proof required is so great that the
complainant seldom proceeds with court action. Discrimination
is very difficult to prove. A decision depends on a balance of
probabilities and the more serious the charge, the less the probability
must be. Of 408 complaints (which in itself was reckoned to be
low) to reach the court for the period 1977-85, only 29 had a
finding of unlawful discrimination.
According to the Commission for the Administration of Justice,
clause 42 of the Act, which allows the Secretary of State to justify
discrimination in employment on the grounds of protecting public
order or national security, has been abused and has resulted in
the most complaints. The Secretary of State's decision is not
subject to judicial review and so an individual has no means of
challenging the information given to the Secretary of State.
- 1989 The Fair Employment (NI) Act provides for the
outlawing of indirect discrimination and the compulsory monitoring
of the religious composition of workforces.
The Act abolished the FEA and replaced it with the Fair Employment
Commission (FEC), which has wider powers. All firms who have 10
or more employees (from 1992) are required to register with the
FEC, which has the power to implement monitoring procedures, set
goals and timetables, and examine work practices.
A Fair Employment Tribunal will adjudicate complaints and enforce
the FEC's directions. Guidelines issued in the Act set out permissible
affirmative action policies which employers may try.
Disabled Persons (Employment) Acts (NI) (1945) and (1960) provide
for a voluntary register of disabled people, reserved occupations
for the disabled, and requirement that all employers with 20 or
more people employ a "quota" of registered disabled
The Companies Regulations (NI) 1982 provide that the directors'
reports of all companies employing on average more than 250 people
must include a statement describing employment policy towards
the disabled. Financial inducements are offered to employers wishing
to train and employ disabled persons.
3. Contemporary Issues
When we consider differences in employment several key questions
|3.1 ||Is unemployment greater in the Catholic Community than in the Protestant community?
|3.2 ||If differentials exist, are they due to discrimination or to other factors?
|3.3 ||Is there evidence of religious discrimination within the Northern Ireland workforce?
3.1 Is Unemployment greater in the Catholic
Community than in the Protestant Community?
Smith and Chambers (1987) in their study, Equality
and Inequality in Northern Ireland, commissioned by the Standing
Advisory Commission on Human Rights, concluded that
the rate of unemployment has been substantially higher among Catholics
than among Protestants in Northern Ireland for many years. Over
the period 1971-1985, Catholic men were about two and a half
times as likely as Protestant men to be unemployed.
The research was based largely on data collected through the Continuous
Household Survey for the period 1983-85, and is one of two recent
major studies in this area.
As the overall rates of unemployment rose from the 1970s onwards,
the difference in unemployment rates between the two groups was
maintained, and more Catholics than Protestants failed to find
work. In the period 1975-83 Smith and Chambers estimated that
the proportion of Protestant men who were unemployed rose by 8%
and the proportion of Catholic men by 18%. Estimated overall male
unemployment rates for the period 1983-85 were 14.9% for Protestants
and 35.1% for Catholics.
As part of their study Smith and Chambers conducted a survey by
personal interview with a representative sample of 1,672 people
aged 18 and over in Northern Ireland, using a structured questionnaire.
In relation to job finding, over 50% of Catholics and only 9%
of Protestants thought that Protestants had a better chance of
finding a job.
This study suggests that the future of unemployment is a dynamic
rather than a static one. Large numbers of men will lose jobs
and find jobs each year. Nevertheless, throughout the period Catholics
remained at a disadvantage.
Osborne and Cormack (1987) studied the changes in the industrial
and occupational profile of two sections of the Northern Ireland
community from 1971 to 1981, using census data, on behalf of the
Fair Employment Agency. They found that:
(i) Unemployment was higher in the 1980s than the 1970s, but the
scale of differential between Protestants and Catholics was such
that Catholics continued to experience rates twice those of Protestants
(men two times greater, women two times greater). This applied
to all areas and all age groups. Because Catholics mostly choose
not to seek employment in the security services, this factor needs
to be considered in accounting for differential rates of employment.
(ii) Ratios for Catholic employment in some of the established
areas have improved (education, health, welfare, legal professions),
though this is partly accounted for by the fact that Catholics
now represent a higher percentage of the younger age group.
(iii) There is also evidence of growth in areas of employment
that were not traditionally Catholic, e.g. personnel, industrial
Gallagher (1991) provides a comprehensive overview of the unemployment
figures, using the above sources together with material from Eversley
(1989) whose study reaches similar conclusions to those of Smith
and Chambers. A summary of the unemployment rates in Northern
Ireland as compared with Great Britain is to be found in McCormack
and O'Hara (1990).
Table 5(a) Percentage of Unemployment by Religion
and Sex in Northern Ireland and Great Britain
Sources: Northern Ireland Census of Population, 1971 and 1981;
Northern Ireland Continuous Household Survey (CHS); Employment
Table 5(b) Unemployment Differentials, Catholic:Protestant
Source: McCormack and O'Hara (1990).
3.2 If Differentials Exist, are They Due to
Discrimination or to Other Factors?
For an answer to this question, further questions
and explanations have been advanced.
(1) Socioeconomic grouping
It has been argued that because more Catholics belong
to the lower socioeconomic groups, which are more prone
to unemployment, more Catholics are bound to be unemployed.
Statistically this would appear to be true but this raises further
questions. Why are there more Catholics in this group and why
are there still differences in the unemployment rate for Catholics
and Protestants even within the same socioeconomic group, e.g.
a Catholic man from a skilled manual group, aged 25-44 years
and having two children and no qualifications, when compared
to his Protestant counterpart, was found by Smith and Chambers
to be twice as likely to be unemployed within "must travel
to work" areas. For example, look at the following table:
Table 6 Unemployment Rates for Skilled Manual Workers,
Multiple Regression Analysis, by Religion and Travel
to Work Area.
Source: Smith and Chambers (1987).
(2) Area of residence
The 1981 Census of Population revealed higher Catholic rates of
unemployment in all of the 26 District Councils areas except Carrick
and Castlereagh. This raises the question of whether
Catholics tend to live in areas further from "local labour
markets" and consequently are more likely to be unemployed.
The "local labour market" takes account of
the job opportunities available, the distance people are prepared
to travel or move (Northern Ireland has a high level of immobility)
and the areas people have to travel through. Smith and Chambers
(1987) looked at twelve different wards and concluded that geography
did not account for any significant difference. The rates
of unemployment did not significantly vary for Protestant men
in any of these wards, who had consistently higher rates
of employment than Catholics.
(3) Number of dependent children
Another stereotypical question sometimes asked is, do Catholic
parents have larger families and consequently less incentive
to work because their welfare benefits may exceed what they might
be able to earn? Research has shown that levels of benefit have
only a peripheral effect on the unwillingness of people to take
jobs. Smith and Chambers (1987) showed that 35% of Catholic households
had 3 or more children, compared to 15% of Protestant households.
Nevertheless, when this differential was taken into account, there
was still a significant difference in the rate of unemployment
for Protestant and Catholic men receiving benefits.
Are more Catholics in the younger age group, which is more prone
to unemployment? Smith and Chambers (1987) found that the age
structure of Protestants and Catholics was not significantly different
and so age was not a major factor in the unemployment differentials.
However, an FEA publication (1985), The Roman Catholic Population
in Northern Ireland in 1981, which revised the figures of
the census of 1981, concluded that while in 1981, 39.1% of the
Province's population were Catholic, 46.5% of those under 15 were
Catholic. This would mean that in the 1 980s, the influx of younger
Catholics to the workforce would be disproportionately larger
than the Protestant influx, in relation to the adult population.
This influx might not have been evident in the Smith and Chambers'
study, which was using data from 1983.
(5) Type of industry
Are Catholics concentrated in those industries more prone to market
fluctuations? Gallagher (1989) points up the link between religion
and the industrial sector in that Catholics are more likely to
be found in low-status industries.
Table 7 Number of Protestant and Catholic Men by Industry
|Type of Industry||Protestant %
| Engineering, Metal Goods|
and Other Manufacturing
|Energy and Water||3
Source: Smith and Chambers (1987)
Smith and Chambers argued that these differences were
not significant. Cormack and Osborne indicated that Protestant
employment was protected to some extent by the growth of
security jobs, in which they were over-represented. Others have
argued that with some 35,000 Protestants and very few Catholics
employed in security jobs, the employment figures are bound to
be biased in favour of Protestants.
(6) Attitude to work
Are there differences between Protestants and Catholics in attitudes
to seeking work?
Both Millar (1978) and McWhirter (1989), examined attitudes to
work and found no religious differences. The evidence suggested
that the unemployed were unemployed by circumstance rather
than by choice.
They argued that as unemployment is higher in the Catholic community
it follows that it is more likely that the "dull factor" [chill factor? ed.]
operates more strongly against the Catholic community. This relates
to the attitude of the employee who believes that it is not worth
while applying for a job, as people from his community never get
jobs with this particular employer. The "dull factor" [chill factor? ed.] is double-edged in that Protestants never apply for some jobs
and so a Catholic employer feels it is a waste of time advertising
in Protestant newspapers, with the result that no Protestants
apply and none are appointed.
Are differentials in employment rates due to differences in qualifications
and training? Are Protestants better qualified than Catholics?
Gallagher (1991) identifies trends in research which suggest that:
(i) Leavers from Protestant schools have better qualifications
than leavers from Catholic schools, although this difference was
greater in the past.
(ii) Catholic schools have a different curricular pattern with
less emphasis on science and technology.
He identifies the question as being whether or not these factors
influence employment opportunities for Protestants and Catholics.
Smith and Chambers (1987) conclude that within the workforce
a distinctly higher proportion of Protestants than of Catholics
have both academic and practical qualifications at every level.
These differences remain when comparisons are made between Protestants
and Catholics in the same age groups. A considerably higher proportion
of Protestant than Catholic men have a City and Guilds qualification,
and this difference is reproduced within the youngest age group.
These findings show that there is a distinct tendency for Protestants
to benefit more than Catholics from the education and training
They consider that
the differences in terms of qualifications at all levels seem
too small to have significance in explaining the difference in
employment patterns. When the job levels of Protestants and Catholics
holding similar qualifications are compared, the differences remain
and in some respects are enhanced.
The Department of Economic Development (1987) concluded:
The important point, however, is that there is evidence that Protestant
and Catholic pupils with the same level of academic attainment
do not have the same success in obtaining employment where employment
is sought on leaving school. Those with no qualifications, whether
Catholic or Protestant, are equally disadvantaged. But Catholics
with the same level of academic attainment as Protestants do not
receive the same advantages in the job market. Though some educational
differences remain there has been a progressive convergence through
the 1970s in academic attainment at point of entry to the labour
market. Despite this there has been relatively little change in
the Catholic share of that labour market either in quantitative
or qualitative terms. (pp. 10-11)
Smith and Chambers (1987) carried out a multiple regression
analysis to take account of the interrelationship between the
various factors (religion, travel to work area, age, number of
dependent children, socioeconomic group and qualifications). In
the context of these six factors, religion was still the most
important. When the joint effect of the six factors was taken
into account the difference in rate was reduced but still remained
large. They concluded that
after allowing for all the factors that are known to be relevant
and important, religion is a major determinant of the rate of
The other factors ranked in decreasing order of importance were
socioeconomic group, area of residence, age, number of dependent
children, qualifications and type of industry.
Their conclusion was that:
after taking into account the factors included in the model, the
difference in the rate of unemployment between Protestants and
Catholics is somewhat reduced compared to the single rates, but
it remains substantial. In fact, for the typical group selected,
the rate of unemployment predicted for Catholics is almost double
the rate for Protestants in most travel to work areas.
A lively debate on the extent to which the finding regarding discrimination
is substantiated continues in the literature (Gallagher 1991).
It is possible to put forward more detailed theories of the social
processes that lead to the difference in rates of unemployment,
but in the end such theories rest on the assumption that Catholics
are somehow channelled into disadvantaged sectors of the labour
market. Apart from discrimination or unequal opportunities, no
adequate explanation of how they are confined within such sectors
has yet appeared. (Smith 1987, pp. 3 1-39, in Gallagher 1991)
3.3 Is There Religious Discrimination within
The Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights has concluded
that a person's religion is an important determinant of his or
her chance of being unemployed. What then of equal opportunity
within the workplace if a job has been secured? Direct discrimination
is difficult to prove although the first annual report of the
Fair Employment Commission (1989-90) records in the section on
complaints five findings of unlawful discrimination among the
twenty-three cases cited. Indirect discrimination may operate
at different levels from recruitment to promotion and is difficult
to alter, though according to Gallagher (1990):
On balance, therefore, it would seem appropriate to suggest that
indirect discrimination has played a role in maintaining the unemployment
gap between the communities, if only because the existence
of indirect discrimination helps to maintain and reproduce
relative advantage for Protestants in the labour market. (pp.
There is substantial evidence to indicate that informal networks
play a part in securing employment. Studies of school-leavers
(Cormack et al. 1980; Murray and Darby 1980) showed that there
was widespread use of informal networks in the search for employment.
Smith and Chambers (1987) indicated in their study of workplaces
that employers had little awareness of equal opportunities guidelines
and made substantial use of informal methods for both recruitment
and promotion. Gallagher (1990) cites additional studies (Jenkins
1983; Maguire 1986 and 1990; and McWhirter et al. 1987) to substantiate
the point in relation to recruitment.
The Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights (SACHR) (1990)
records figures based on the Continuous Household Survey for 1985-87.
|1. ||Catholics were significantly less likely than Protestants to hold either professional/managerial or other non-manual posts, with 5% of Catholics in the professional/managerial sector and 11% of Protestants.
|2. ||Twenty-one per cent of Catholics held other non-manual posts, while 29% of Protestants held similar posts.
|3. ||There was over-representation of Catholics in semi- and unskilled manual occupational groups.
The Commission continue:
There appears to have been little major change in the occupational
profile of either religious group between 1983-84 and 1985-87.
However, the proportion of Catholics occupying non-manual (other
than professional/managerial) and unskilled manual posts has fallen
slightly while the proportion in semi-skilled manual occupations
show a slight increase. Meanwhile, the proportion of Protestants in
professional/managerial occupations has risen from 8% in 1983-85 to
11% in 1985-87. (p.11)
Osborne and Cormack (1987) in their study undertaken for the Fair
Employment Agency found that Protestants were over-represented
in the high-status groups, a finding supported by Smith
and Chambers. These included managerial/supervisory posts, farmers
of large farms, and members of the armed forces. Catholics, on
the other hand, were over-represented among personal service workers,
unskilled manual workers and persons working on their own account.
Smith and Chambers found Catholic men were represented in the
skilled manual and middle-ranking non-manual jobs. They indicate,
however, a continuing pattern of inequality in which there is
no tendency for Catholic men to catch up.
Standard of Living
The SACHR (1990), using the Continuous Household Survey
figures for 1986-87, point out the disparities in earned
and household incomes:
- 13% of Catholics (employed adults) reported an earned
income of £10,000 or more compared with 21% of Protestants.
- 21% of Catholic households reported a total income from all
sources of £10,000 or more compared with 36% of Protestants.
Smith and Chambers (1991) indicate that the higher rates of unemployment
for Catholics must mean that Protestants have an overall higher
standard of living.
(i) A higher proportion of Protestant than of Catholic families
have two wage earners.
(ii) The larger number of wage earners supports families of a
smaller size, on average.
(iii) Protestants (especially men) tend to have jobs at higher
levels than Catholics.
(iv) Protestants, especially at lower job levels, are more likely
to work overtime than Catholics.
The SACHR would like to see more labour market information collected
by Government to enable closer study of employment trends. They
also point with concern to Smith and Chambers' study of attitudes,
which suggests fairly widespread disbelief within the community
that Protestants have a higher standard of living than Catholics,
particularly among the younger respondents. They stress the need
to bring the communities together and to correct such misconceptions.
4. Case Examples from the Fair Employment Agency
It may be easier to understand some of the complex issues inherent
in the term "discrimination" by reference to case examples
drawn from the actual reports of representation of complaints
by the Fair Employment Agency. Fair Employment Today reports
cases that have come before the FEA which have implications for
both employers and employees.
Case Number C465/85 (1987)
This centred on the issue of flags, emblems and bunting.
The Complainant was a Catholic man employed by an engineering
company. He had worked in the factory for about six months and
during that time he said that he had suffered minor harassment
from some of his Protestant colleagues but he had expected that
and felt able to handle it.
His situation changed dramatically, however, one lunch time. The
date was July 1st.
He had worked normally that morning and had gone for his lunch
break as usual. But when he returned he found that the workshop
was covered in bunting, Union Jacks and Red Hand of Ulster flags.
He felt that this put him in a position in which he felt frightened
and intimidated and he told his foreman of his fears. The foreman
told him to contact the personnel department.
The Complainant met the personnel manager who assured him that
the erection of the flags and emblems was of no significance but
if he experienced any difficulties he was immediately to inform
his foreman or the personnel manager again. The flags and emblems
stayed in place and the Complainant remained in the workshop for
the rest of the day. When he came into work the following day
he was transferred from that workshop to the pool due to a continuing
shortage of work in his department. He continued to work in the
pool for a further nine months until he was made redundant.
The Complainant argued that the blatant display of flags and bunting
was a form of sectarian harassment and by failing to have
them removed, the company was, in effect, condoning the display.
He also maintained that following his complaint he had been moved
to the pool and that this had reduced his level of wages.
The company responded by maintaining that an individual's
religion was not taken into account in any way. While they
accepted that some flags and bunting had been put up in the workshop,
they said that it was a gross exaggeration to say that the
entire workshop was covered in them. The company also pointed
out that no other Catholic worker had made a complaint and
the company could not be held responsible for a particularly
sensitive individual. In any event, they maintained that the
flags and emblems had been erected by the workers in their
own time and they belonged to the employees and not the company.
They also noted the opinion that the Union Jack, as the national
flag, could not be regarded as being sectarian. As to the Complainant's
contention that he had suffered financially because of his move
to the pool the company rejected this allegation.
In making its finding, the Agency considered two sections of the
Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1976: Section 16(2) and
The first deals with the treatment of the Complainant. It states:
"For the purposes of this Act a person discriminates against
another person on the grounds of religious belief or political
opinion if, on either of these grounds, he treats that person
less favourably in any circumstances than he treats or would treat
any other person in those circumstances."
Section 17(b)(iv) was central to the finding. It states that:
"It shall be unlawful for an employer to discriminate against
a person, in relation to Northern Ireland.. . by subjecting him
to any other detriment."
The key question was: did the Complainant suffer a detriment?
The Agency concluded:
"In the Agency's opinion, the treatment of the Complainant
by the Respondent (the company) is plainly capable of constituting
such a detriment.
"Taking all the circumstances into account, the Agency believes
that a reasonable Catholic worker in his position would or might
take the view that there was a detriment. The Complainant was
put under a real disadvantage by reason of the distress and apprehension
which he felt. The fact that another Catholic worker (and perhaps
more than one) did not complain is relevant, but it is not conclusive...
"Furthermore the absence of complaints by other Catholics
may well be explained by factors other than absence of any feeling
of detriment, notably fear of the consequences of complaining."
The Agency made a finding of unlawful discrimination in relation
to the Respondent's failure to take adequate steps to deal with
the problems experienced by the Complainant in relation to the
erection of flags and bunting in the workshop in which he was
employed. The agency found, however, that there was very little
evidence of discrimination or harassment of the Complainant
prior to the erection of the flags and bunting.
The fact that the Complainant was subsequently transferred to
the pool was not, in the Agency's opinion, based upon the information
obtained, influenced by his religion.
The Company gave notice that it would exercise its right to appeal
this finding but that appeal was later withdrawn.
In reaching a settlement, the Complainant was awarded £2,000
in respect of injury to feelings, and the company agreed to alter
its policy on flags and emblems."
Case Nos. C458/85 and C459185 (1987)
Complainant: Two Catholic sisters
Respondents: Proprietors of licensed premises
The Complainants were employed as barmaids in one of the Respondent's
licensed premises. The Respondents were Catholics but their manageress
and assistant manageress were Protestants, and the premises were
situated in a mainly Protestant area. Both parties agreed that
the Complainants were very satisfactory workers.
The Complainants alleged that they had been subjected to considerable
harassment regarding their religion by a section of customers
who frequented the bar. They contended that the manageress and
assistant manageress persistently refused to deal with the troublemakers,
although they were fully aware of the serious nature of the abuse,
which included threats of physical violence.
The situation came to a head on 4th May 1985 when a fight broke
out in the bar between one of the Complainants, her fiance and
one of the troublemakers who had previously been banned from the
premises. The Complainants alleged that the fracas erupted because
the troublemaker had called her a "Fenian whore". They
claimed that they had asked the assistant manageress to have this
customer removed from the premises, but she refused to do so.
The Respondents had been kept informed about the situation in
the bar, and after they had considered the incident they decided
to dismiss the Complainant who had been involved in the fracas.
She claimed that when she was told she was dismissed one of the
Respondents told her she was sorry about the problems she had
encountered in the bar, and commented, "Next time I think
I will employ Prods."
The Respondents denied the seriousness of most of the Complainants'
allegations. The manageress and assistant manageress both claimed
that the Complainants had exaggerated the incidents and were inclined
to panic. The Respondents also denied that the comment regarding
employing Protestants was made. They contended that the Complainant
who was involved in the row had been dismissed because she had
been fighting in the bar and that this could not be tolerated.
In arriving at its finding the Agency considered the Respondents'
contention that the Complainants were merely subjected to banter
of the sort which bar staff must expect. The Agency's formation
of opinion in this case stated inter alia:
The Agency acknowledged that in bars and many other establishments
a good deal of banter occurs, and that much of it, even about
religion, may be harmless. In the Agency's view, however, the
comments made to (the Complainants) went beyond what should have
been considered acceptable and, in such circumstances, the management
should have indicated that it would not tolerate such behaviour.
The Agency has accepted that the Complainants made the bar management
aware of the problems they were facing, and that the management
failed to take appropriate action. The Agency has noted that the
bar management would not have discouraged the Complainant from
taking justifiable complaints to (the Proprietor). The management's
apparent view of complaints of harassment on religious grounds
as not being 'justifiable" seems particularly strange.
The Agency considered that the fracas would not have occurred
if management had not permitted the troublemaker to remain on
the premises. The management's failure to take appropriate action
allowed a situation to develop where this person felt able to
insult a staff member in a sectarian manner.
A finding of unlawful discrimination was made by the Agency.
|1.1||Have you or a family member experienced discrimination in employment? What was its nature? What was its outcome?
|1.2||Have you ever had cause to reflect on the religious composition of the workforce within an agency in which you have worked?
|2.1||What obligations, if any, do you accept for challenging discrimination in employment practices in social services agencies?
|2.2||Is there any awareness of Fair Employment legislation and its implications in the staff group where you are working/studying.
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