Immigrant domestics not protected by equality law

 

Iimmigrant live-in nannies and domestic workers who are being exploited by their employers have no protection under workplace equality legislation due to a "serious shortcoming" in the current law.

The head of the Equality Authority, which offers advice to people who believe they are facing discrimination, yesterday said the law must be changed to help those employed in private households who are among the most vulnerable and isolated of migrant workers.

Mr Niall Crowley said the Employment Equality Act, which outlaws discrimination in the workplace on nine grounds including race, nationality, ethnic origin and colour, does not cover domestic settings.

"There is a growing presence of migrant workers working as domestics, nannies or live-in childminders," he said. "These are probably the most isolated and most vulnerable migrant workers.

"There are very few channels of communication with them. It is very difficult to get information to them in terms of rights and therefore they are very susceptible obviously to fairly extreme exploitation, particularly in terms of low pay and long working hours.

"We are particularly concerned in that there is an exemption in the Employment Equality Act for people employed in domestic settings and therefore there's not a lot we can do for many people in those sort of domestic situations."

Mr Crowley added that the authority said it was only beginning to get a "trickle" of cases from domestic employees as their awareness of their rights was still quite low.

The absence of redress for domestic workers in the law "has emerged now as a serious shortcoming and anecdotally there are high levels of exploitation happening within that setting in terms of excessive hours and low pay and it would fall under the race discrimination ground if this exemption wasn't in the Employment Equality Act", he added.

Mr Crowley was speaking at a seminar on migrant workers in Ireland hosted by the authority and social partner groups as part of the third annual Anti-Racist Workplace week which ends tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the Small Firms Association has added its voice to the effect of racism in the workplace. It said Ireland would have to embrace the concept of an ethnic workplace to a far greater extent if it was to take its place among the most advanced, competitive economies in the world.

Dublin Bus, which employs 40 different nationalities, has also reiterated its commitment to cultural awareness in the workplace. Six per cent of its 3,300 employees are from outside the European Union while 3 per cent are from other EU states.

The company has been to the forefront in recruiting migrant workers and putt an equality programme in place last year, which includes cultural awareness training.

One of its drivers became the first person to be convicted under the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act, two years ago after a reference in the presence of a Gambian passenger. The conviction was later quashed.