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'Discrimination and Employment' from 'Perspectives on Discrimination and Social Work in Northern Ireland'

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Text: F. Gibson, G. Michael and D. Wilson ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna

Discrimination and Employment

Key Readings

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 Studies Institute.

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.

Supplementary Readings

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. London, Sage.

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. London, Macmillan.

Maguire, M. (1989) What Price Women? A Study of Women's Employment in the Retail Trade in Northern Ireland. Belfast, Equal Opportunities Commission.

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.

Resource Agencies

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 by employers.

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 (0504) 264681.

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.

1. Definitions

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 imbalances.

(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 and objective.

(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 authorities.

  • 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 it
    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 court.

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 PEA 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 FEs 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 people.

    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 need exploration:

    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 197 1-1985, 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 Connack (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 relations, engineering.

    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).

    Enduring Inequality

    Table 5(a) Percentage of Unemployment by Religion and Sex in Northern Ireland and Great Britain


    NI Average
    GB Average
    GB Average

    Sources: Northern Ireland Census of Population, 1971 and 1981; Northern Ireland Continuous Household Survey (CHS); Employment Gazette.

    Table 5(b) Unemployment Differentials, Catholic:Protestant

    1983 CHS

    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, Predicted by
    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.

    (4) Age
    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 PEA 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 %
    Catholics %
    Engineering, Metal Goods
    and Other Manufacturing
    Energy and Water

    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" 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" 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.

    (7) Qualifications
    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 system.
    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 1 970s 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)

    In summary
    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 unemployment.
    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.

    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)

    A lively debate on the extent to which the finding regarding discrimination is substantiated continues in the literature (Gallagher 1991).

    3.3 Is There Religious Discrimination within the Workforce?
    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. 58)

    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.

    Occupational Status
    The Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights (SACHR) (1990) records figures based on the Continuous Household Survey for 1985-87. These indicate:

    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 PEA 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 Section 17(b)(iv).

    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.

    1.1Have you or a family member experienced discrimination in employment? What was its nature? What was its outcome?
    1.2Have you ever had cause to reflect on the religious composition of the workforce within an agency in which you have worked?
    2.1What obligations, if any, do you accept for challenging discrimination in employment practices in social services agencies?
    2.2Is there any awareness of Fair Employment legislation and its implications in the staff group where you are working/studying.

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