Transparency needed over workplace complaints, says rights watchdog

Commissioner says people on rent allowance searching for a home still face discrimination

Emily Logan: concerned  “blanket anonymity rules” on decisions made by the Workplace Relations Commission was closing down public debate around issues of discrimination. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Emily Logan: concerned “blanket anonymity rules” on decisions made by the Workplace Relations Commission was closing down public debate around issues of discrimination. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

A lack of transparency around cases of discrimination at work is pushing people away from reporting abuse and harassment to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), a human rights watchdog has warned.

Emily Logan, Chief Commissioner at the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC), expressed concern at the launch of the group’s annual report that “blanket anonymity rules” on decisions made by the WRC was closing down public debate around issues of discrimination and stopping people from making complaints.

“We don’t know which employers in this country are discriminating against employees,” said Ms Logan. “This does two things; it closes down the debate on discrimination, in particular in the workplace; and secondly it discourages people from making complaints. If there’s nothing on the airwaves about it, you find people just don’t make the case. They don’t see the point in doing it.”

Discrimination in the housing market is highlighted in commission’s annual report as the most common public concern last year, followed by discrimination on the grounds of disability and race.

People searching for a home who are in receipt of social welfare payments continue to be discriminated against, despite legislation prohibiting landlords from advertising that rent supplement or housing assistance payments are not accepted, said Ms Logan.

“It’s no longer acceptable to use wording that implicitly says don’t bother applying if you’re on rental supplement,” said Ms Logan. “People’s experience is they’re not even getting to see the properties. Once rent supplement is mentioned they’re not getting a return call or an invite to view the property.”

Prohibited

Under the housing assistance clause of the 2016 Equal Status Act, landlords are prohibited from discriminating against people on welfare payments.

The commission dealt with a total of 1,780 public concerns last year around the issues of race, disability, housing and gender. Of these, 510 queries related to the equal status Act, while 368 queries were submitted in relation to the employment equality Acts.

The commission, which works to promote human rights and equality across the State, also focuses on the issue of gender, working with women living with disabilities, who are in prison and who are living in direct provision.

Ms Logan commended Ireland’s “laudable” reputation on human rights but added that the State must continue to demonstrate that “we are a country that chooses respect for human rights and quality of treatment over hate and intolerance”.

Landmark ruling

The IHREC played a role as an amicus curiae (friend of the court) during the landmark Supreme Court ruling in June which saw a Burmese man, who spent eight years in direct provision, win his appeal over laws preventing him working in Ireland. The commission has called for the application of a system similar to that used in other European countries whereby an asylum seeker can work after six to nine months in the country.

The commission has also called for a review of the International Protection Bill which restricts the rights of refugees to apply for reunification with extended family members. “We have asked that these policies be re-examined,” said Ms Logan. “We’re asking for a more human approach to family reunification. For different cultures, family means different things. We’ve defined it so conventionally without an understanding of cultural sensitivities.”