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SF comment on Equality Commission report on six county workforce

18 December, 2007

Sinn Fein spokesperson on Equality/Human Rights, Foyle MLA Martina Anderson has welcomed the Equality Commission's 17th Monitoring Report of the North's workforce stating that:

"Monitoring under the Fair Employment and Treatment Order (FETO) is an important aspect of the equality agenda in measuring, as far as it can, whether we have fair representation in the workforce. Sinn Fein will study the detail of the report in the coming weeks and has a meeting scheduled with Gerry Adams MP and the Equality Commission's Chief Commissioner Bob Collins in early January to discuss the report and other areas of inequality further.

"However on initial scrutiny the party is deeply concerned with the accuracy of the monitoring data on this occasion. Monitoring was introduced in 1990 in order to address sectarian discrimination and under-representation, particularly as it affected the catholic community in the workforce. It was based on the recognition that regardless of their individual religious or political beliefs, people were discriminated against on the basis of the perception that they were from the unionist or nationalist community, a reality which largely adversely affected the nationalist community. The concept of perceived community background was therefore monitored rather than religion.

"Given that the entire basis of the legislation around monitoring was put in place to identify imbalances in the workforce between the local Catholic/nationalist and Protestant/unionist communities it is therefore vital that given the addition of migrant workers in the workforce that they should clearly be categorised as having a community background of 'other'.

"Employers do not perceive migrant workers as belonging to the local nationalist or unionist communities and this is artificially inflating the Catholic/nationalist representation in the workforce, the bulk of whom are from catholic countries. Therefore, for the purposes of FETO monitoring, they should not be counted as such. Despite this, it appears as though many migrant workers, coming from Catholic countries, are being categorised as having a community background of 'Catholic' rather than 'other'. The same situation has arisen within the internal tracking systems of the PSNI making it difficult to track the true numbers of catholics/nationalist applying or being appointed locally as distinct from those applicants and appointees from other countries of origin.

"If the Fair Employment and Treatment Order is to maintain its value as a means of tackling sectarian under-representation in the workforce, which was its primary objective among others, the Equality Commission must address this issue as a matter of urgency and take steps to support the amendment of FETO to reflect the emerging workforce trends."

Ms Anderson continued:

"Sinn Fein would also point out that while the overall picture shows that the decline in the manufacturing industry particularly affected Protestants it would be wrong to compare the 0.9% increase in the Catholic share of private sector employment as anything other than a marginal upturn as evidently many serious challenges remain across many sectors of the workforce where under-representation and promotional issues are still problematic."

In conclusion Ms Anderson said:

" The workforce is not the only area contributing to conditions of economic inequality. For example, as highlighted by the Labour Force Survey:

The unemployment rate for Catholics remains twice that for Protestants.
Catholics have a lower rate of economic activity than Protestants.
Of those who are economically inactive, Catholics are more likely than Protestants to want work.
Higher levels of catholics leaving school without a single qualification
"The challenge ahead for us all is to tackle these inequalities comprehensively to ensure that no group, no community and no individual is subject for whatever excuse to a present or a future of social exclusion or political discrimination in any area of their lives."



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