Discrimination - attitudes and experience in NI
View from the Chair, as published in the News Letter, Tues 3 July 2012
Michael Wardlow, Chief Commissioner, Equality Commission NI
As part of our recent survey, “Do You Mean Me?”, we asked people from across Northern Ireland a series of questions on their experiences of the economic downturn.
It revealed that confidence amongst employees that they would keep their job over the next 12 months was lower than the rest of the UK or the EU. Here around two-thirds of people (66%) were confident compared to more than three-quarters (77%) elsewhere.
In our survey 7% of respondents reported that they had become unemployed in the past 12 months due to the downturn and one person in four felt that they may lose their jobs in the next year.
And similarly, confidence was lower here than in the rest of UK amongst individuals of their ability to find a job again if made unemployed, at 36% compared to 51%. Worryingly, around one-third felt that they would not be able to find a job in the current climate.
One in four had been affected by job losses or reduced hours and these individuals were more likely to be those who were disabled, those in the lower income bands, from a lower social class and with the lowest academic qualifications.
Almost one in three had been the subject of a pay cut or freeze. It seems that men, those with dependents, those married, cohabiting or in a civil partnership and those living in Belfast were amongst those most likely to be affected by a reduction in salary.
These statistics are of concern to us all, individuals and employers alike.
We have also spoken to employers across the private and public sectors and they have told us that the key area that they need equality guidance on is that of redundancy and dismissal.
Our employer research shows that this area tops the table of advice issues for all business types, but it has a particular relevance for smaller businesses, with up to 50 employees. They were by far the most likely to say that access to advice on dismissal and redundancy would be of benefit to them (23% as opposed to 8% of public sector organisations).
Of course, all this information shapes our work with employers. We offer free and confidential advice from an experienced team to all businesses of whatever size and in all sectors. We have practical tools, some online, that employers can use to ensure that they comply with the law. Around nine out of ten (86%) of employers say they are satisfied with our services, and our survey showed that employers who contacted us three or more times in a year are the most likely (61%) to introduce changes as a result of using our services.
We can also help employers specifically to address ways of including those more disadvantaged areas of the potential workforce with ‘employability’ plans – practical ways such as social contracts which encourage people from marginalised groups back into work.
There is no simple solution to rebuild the economy or perhaps, more importantly, the trust that has been damaged over the past four years. What is clear, however, is that those in leadership roles continue to reflect the need to have equality of opportunity at the core of this rebuilding process so that no-one is left behind.
Equality cannot become another casualty of the economic downturn; for if it does, those on the margins and without a strong voice will suffer most and this cannot be the foundation for a shared and better future.