The Government's proposals for future legislation
and policies on Employment Equality
in Northern Ireland
Presented to Parliament by the
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
by Command of Her Majesty
This Government was elected last year with a clear commitment to reform - devolution to Scotland and Wales, greater freedom of information, change to the House of Lords, and incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights in domestic legislation. We are moving ahead with it.
We promised reform in Northern Ireland too - not only devolution within an agreed framework, but also measures to safeguard human rights and counter unjust discrimination in the labour market. This White Paper sets out our plans and seeks views on a number of proposals to enhance equality in a range of areas centering on jobs and employment. They relate to the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland and do not carry implications for equal opportunities and race relations strategies in the different context of Great Britain.
These plans and proposals are our own. But I and my Ministerial colleagues are deeply indebted to the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights for their report "Employment Equality:
Building for the Future", published in June 1997. It is a comprehensive analysis, based on wide-ranging research into employment equality and many issues which have a bearing on it. Their report's contribution to development of policy in this field is as outstanding as the Commission's earlier work which had such an influence on the current Fair Employment legislation.
Northern Ireland needs more high quality jobs; and these jobs need to be fairly shared. Fair employment legislation is working well, but can, I believe, be made to work even better. This paper sets out how.
Unemployment on the other hand remains a scourge on too many individuals, families and communities, and a blight on society as a whole, here as elsewhere. But where we in Northern Ireland differ is that about half of those who are unemployed have been so for more than a year, in far too many cases much longer. We agree with SACHR that this is unacceptable. Many of our plans and proposals are aimed at making inroads into unemployment and especially longer-term joblessness.
Unemployment rates are substantially higher in the Catholic community than in the Protestant community; and almost two-thirds of the long-term unemployed are Catholic. The reasons are varied and the subject of much dispute in some respects. This particular feature of the evil of unemployment is simply unacceptable: no society can hope to be stable in the long term when there is a clear correlation between the least advantaged section of society and a particular large minority community within it. As a society we must tackle this. The Government is opposed to discrimination between unemployed people on the basis of their community background: an unemployed Protestant has, and must have, all the rights of his or her Catholic counterpart. But we will energetically pursue a range of policies and programmes, set out in this paper, to do what we can to resolve this long-standing problem of differential unemployment.
Action has already been put in hand: the introduction of the New Deal from 1 April with £140m of new money over 5 years, is only the most obvious. As an investment for further equality in the future, we are expanding pre-school provision, targeted particularly at areas of high unemployment.
SACHR argues that employment equality cannot be achieved without equality of opportunity based on a broad front of private and public sector action. We agree. That is why, complementing our labour market policies and proposals to strengthen Fair Employment legislation, we propose to put in place a new statutory framework requiring the public sector to promote equality of opportunity. This legislation would require public sector bodies in Northern Ireland to ensure that, wherever possible, public policies and functions are carried out with due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity in those areas covered by the Policy Appraisal and Fair Treatment (PAFT) guidelines. We also propose that this statutory obligation should extend to promoting good relations between people of different religious groups and political opinion, and people of different racial groups.
This new statutory obligation would be enforced by a powerful new Equality Commission. This would discharge the functions of the existing Fair Employment Commission, Equal Opportunities Commission, Commission for Racial Equality and Disability Council. It would also have duties of enforcement and advice in relation to new statutory schemes which public sector bodies would be required to adopt. These schemes would set out how they will promote equality of opportunity and good relations. The Commission could also have a role in promoting measures to recognise parity of esteem.
These are far-reaching proposals, and you can find the details
in Chapter 4 of this White Paper. We all have an interest in a
stable, secure society. To be that, it has also to be a fair society,
whether government is by Direct Rule, as now, or by agreed new
arrangements. Our proposals are aimed at that, and that alone.
The White Paper makes clear where we are committed to action.
In other cases, our plans are not yet finalised and I would be
grateful for your views.
RT HON MARJORIE MOWLAM MP
SECRETARY OF STATE FOR NORTHERN IRELAND
This White Paper sets out future directions for Government's policies
on employment equality in Northern Ireland, including proposals
for legislation. At paragraphs 2.22; 4.8; 4.14; 5.19; 5.45; 5.47
and 5.55 views are invited on issues where the Government has
not yet made a final decision, or where there are detailed matters
to be decided, consequent on a decision in principle. Written
comments on these matters should be sent by 12 June 1998 to:
Partnership for Equality
Electronic mail responses should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org Should you wish any part (or all) of your comments to be treated in confidence, you should make this clear in any papers or electronic mail you send. In the absence of such an instruction, submissions made to the Government will be assumed to be open, and may be published by Ministers, or placed in the Libraries of the Houses of Parliament.