View from the Chair; Equality Has a Vital Role to Play

Article excerpt

EACH year the Equality Commission publishes an analysis and summary of the monitoring returns, which tracks the relative employment position of Protestants and Catholics in workplaces in Northern Ireland.

Why? Well, one reason is to provide a basis of fact for what has, for many years, been a focus for fixed views and much dispute.

Since compulsory monitoring was introduced in 1990, though we undoubtedly still have dispute, we may at least hope that with the facts available views are becoming somewhat less fixed.

The changes occurring within the Northern Ireland workforce need careful consideration, and it should be a more informed and a more productive debate when the participants work from a basis of fact rather than supposition.

The Commission has flagged up, as a result of our own analysis of the returns, where we see progress being made and where there are issues of concern.

The imbalance between Protestant and Roman Catholic participation in the overall workforce, which was evident in the early 90s, has largely disappeared, but there remains continuing under-representation for both communities in individual instances in both the private and public sectors - for example, in some district councils and in the health and education sectors.

In 2004, there was further decline in manufacturing industry, where traditionally Protestants were strongly represented.

Research has also revealed real grounds for concern about educational under-attainment in socially-disadvantaged areas - particularly regarding Protestant boys.

In terms of employment potential, this is linked to undergraduate migration out of Northern Ireland, and in this regard also those leaving are disproportionately Protestant. Issues like these are of concern to all those involved in the development and implementation of public policy, but they are also directly relevant to every employer. …