The Irish Times view on workplace discrimination: slow progress

Human Rights and Equality Commission says problem is “persistent and pernicious”

Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission chief commissioner Emily Logan described workplace discrimination against these people as “persistent and pernicious”. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission chief commissioner Emily Logan described workplace discrimination against these people as “persistent and pernicious”. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

More than 640,000 citizens present with some form of disability be it physical, mental, hearing or visual. Many experience discrimination in shops or restaurants; in accessing public services or in applying for work. Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission chief Emily Logan yesterday described workplace discrimination against these people as “persistent and pernicious”. The Commission, she said, would draw up a legal code of practice that, once in force, would be admissible as evidence in court or in proceedings before the Workplace Relations Commission or the Labour Court.

Since the Employment Equality Act was passed 21 years ago, there has been slow progress in confronting workplace discrimination, particularly within the private sector. A National Disability Strategy was drawn up for the public sector in 2013 but, in spite of that, the greatest number of complaints involves access to health services. This followed official resistance to reforms under which individuals might make autonomous decisions regarding the expenditure of State financial supports.

This authoritarian attitude was undermined last year when, after years of procrastination, the Government finally signed the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. Amongst other things, the Convention provides that persons are not deprived of their liberty in residential institutions against their will. Ireland has a long and shameful record in that regard.

In announcing her initiative before a large gathering of employers, trade unionists, public bodies and civil society organisations, Logan expressed concern that complaints of discrimination in the workplace had risen from 25 per cent of the total in 2016 to 36 per cent in the first half of this year. Senior management would have to take a lead role, she said, in creating a culture of equality and inclusion in their places of work. Up to now, complaints concerning discrimination in the labour market have reflected the relatively low rates of participation. That may change with the introduction of a legal code of practice.

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