Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum from the Fair Employment Commission for Northern Ireland


  The Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1989 (the 1989 Act) came into force on 1 January 1990. The Act will have been in operation for 10 years on 1 January 2000. The Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1976 (the 1976 Act) will, at that time, have been in force for 24 years. These two pieces of legislation seek to address the longstanding problem of inequality in employment in Northern Ireland. The 1989 Act heavily amended the 1976 Act and so to understand the way in which the legislation operates as a whole it is necessary to read the two Acts together.

  During the passage through Parliament of the 1989 legislation, the Government announced that the Central Community Relations Unit (CCRU) would undertake a comprehensive review of the legislation five years after its introduction. In November 1994, the Government decided that the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights (SACHR) would be responsible for undertaking the review. SACHR reported in June 1997; Employment Equality: Building for the Future. The SACHR report is a comprehensive review after five years experience of the operation of the 1989 Act and the 1976 Act, as amended. It considered in some detail changes in employment in the period 1990-96. At the present time (September 1998) only one additional year (1997) of monitoring data is available and it will be a further two years before 10 years of monitoring data is available for consideration. In the interim we have provided an overview of the period since 1990.


2.1 Overall Composition

  The overall composition of the monitored workforce in 1997 was 232,938 (58.5 per cent) Protestant, 147,355 (37.0 per cent) Roman Catholic and 18,159 (4.6 per cent) Non-Determined. The composition of those for whom a community was determined was 61.3 per cent Protestant and 38.7 per cent Roman Catholic. This was the eighth set of monitoring information available on public sector concerns and private sector concerns with 26 or more employees. The Roman Catholic share rose by 3.9 percentage points since 1990.

2.2 Composition by Sex

  The composition of male employees for whom a community was determined was 63.5 per cent Protestant and 36.5 per cent Roman Catholic. For females the composition was 58.7 per cent Protestant and 41.3 per cent Roman Catholic. Looking at the same sections of the workforce in 1997 as were monitored in 1990 (26+ employees), the Roman Catholic share of male employees increased by 4.2 percentage points since 1990. For females the corresponding increase was 3.1 percentage points.
Change in the Roman Catholic Percentage of the Northern Ireland Workforce (Public Sector Concerns and Private Sector Concerns with 26 or More Employees) by Sex 1990-97
19901991 199219931994 199519961997 Overall
Per centPer cent Per centPer centPer cent Per centPer centPer cent Per cent
Males32.032.3 32.833.634.2 35.035.336.2 +4.2
Females38.539.0 39.440.040.6 40.741.241.6 +3.1
Total34.935.3 35.836.537.2 37.638.138.8 +3.9

2.3 Comparison of the Composition of the Workforce with the Composition of the Population available for work

  In 1997 the workforce composition was 61.3 per cent Protestant and 38.7 per cent Roman Catholic, and accordingly the question will be asked; "Is this proportionate to those in the population available for work?" The community composition of the population is measured every 10 years by the Census of Population. In the period between censuses it is necessary to estimate the community composition. It is estimated that in 1996 the Roman Catholic proportion of those of economically active age was 42.0 per cent; but among males it was 41.4 per cent and among females it was 42.7 per cent.[1] Accordingly the results of monitoring still indicate an under-representation of Roman Catholic males and a small under-representation of Catholic females. There would be some indications that women who work less than 16 hours would be disproportionately Protestant.

2.4 Composition by Occupational Classification

  The Roman Catholic share has risen in every occupational group since 1990. For men, the largest increases were in Sales Occupations, 8.9 percentage points and Clerical and Secretarial Occupations 6.6 percentage points. In Managers and Administrators the increase was 5.7 percentage points while in Professional Occupations it was 6.4 percentage points. Among Craft and Skilled Manual workers, where there was a substantial under-representation of Catholics, the increase has only been 2.4 percentage points.

Change in the Roman Catholic percentage of the Northern Ireland workforce (public sector concerns with 26 or
more employees) by SOC 1990-97
Male workforce
Female workforce
Total workforce
SOC group19901997 Change19901997Change




Per centPer cent Per centPer centPer cent Per centPer centPer cent Per cent
Managers and administrators
28.5 34.2+5.736.0 40.9+4.930.5 36.5+6.0
Professional occupations
29.6 36.0+6.441.4 47.7+6.333.4 40.6+7.2
Associate professional and technical occupations
32.836.7+3.9 45.346.1+0.8 40.142.3+2.2
Clerical and secretarial occupations
34.941.5+6.6 33.938.6+4.7 34.239.3+5.1
Craft and skilled manual occupations
32.234.6+2.4 42.742.1-0.6 34.335.8+1.5
Personal and protective service occupations
20.023.5+3.5 40.541.6+1.1 28.532.0+3.5
Sales occupations
31.1 40.0+8.934.7 40.5+5.833.3 40.3+7.0
Plant and machine operatives
36.541.1+4.6 42.345.3+3.0 38.542.4+3.9
Other occupations
40.5 42.2+1.736.8 39.6+2.838.8 41.0+2.2
Total32.036.2 +4.238.541.6 +3.134.938.8 +3.9


2.5 Overall Composition

  In 1997, a total of 113 public sector bodies submitted monitoring returns to the Fair Employment Commission. The composition of those for whom a community could be determined was 61.8 per cent Protestant and 38.2 per cent Roman Catholic. Since statutory monitoring began in 1990, Roman Catholic representation has increased by 2.9 per cent percentage points. Roman Catholic male representation increased from 30.4 per cent to 33.3 per cent and Roman Catholic female representation from 40.4 per cent to 42.7 per cent.
Change in the Roman Catholic percentage of monitored Public Sector Employees by sex 1990-1997
19901991 199219931994 199519961997 Overall
Per centPer cent Per centPer centPer cent Per centPer centPer cent Per cent
Males30.430.6 30.831.932.1 32.332.833.3 +2.9
Females40.440.9 41.141.742.1 42.142.342.7 +2.3
Total35.335.6 35.836.837.2 37.337.838.2 +2.9

2.6 The Security Related Occupations

  Included in the Monitoring Returns are the following security related occupations; the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Royal Irish Regiment, the Territorial Army, the Royal Naval Reserve, the Northern Ireland Prison Service and staff working in the Police Authority for Northern Ireland.

  There were 20,913 monitored employees in these security related occupations, (14.8 per cent) of all monitored public sector employment. Among those whose community background was determined, 91.6 per cent were Protestant and 8.4 per cent were Roman Catholic. Between 1990 and 1997 there has been a 1.0 percentage point increase in the Roman Catholic share overall.

  The composition of the whole monitored public sector is influenced by the large number of Protestants working in security related occupations. Among males, less than 6 per cent of Roman Catholic public sector employees were in security related occupations while over one-third of Protestant males (35.3 per cent) were in such occupations. Among females, 8.2 per cent of Protestant and only 1.4 per cent of Roman Catholic public sector employees were in security related occupations.

  For males, if those in security related occupations are excluded, the Roman Catholic share of the public sector increases from 33.3 per cent to 42.1 per cent. For females the corresponding increase is from 42.7 per cent to 44.5 per cent.


2.7 Overall Composition

  Private sector concerns with 26 or more employees submitted their first monitoring return in 1990, those with 11-25 employees submitted their first monitoring return in 1992. The composition of private sector employees in 1997 for whom a community was determined was 61.0 per cent Protestant and 39.0 per cent Roman Catholic. Among private sector concerns with 26 or more employees the male Roman Catholic share increased by 4.7 percentage points since 1990. For females the corresponding increase was 4.0 percentage points.

2.8 Composition by Company Size

  Almost half of all 3,797 private sector concerns had 25 or less employees. However, these concerns employed only over one in 10 private sector employees. There were 141 concerns with 251 or more employees and these employed 40 per cent of all private sector workers.

  The Roman Catholic share was lowest 37.8 per cent in the size band containing the largest concerns. Since 1990, the largest increase in the Roman Catholic share was 5.7 percentage points in the largest size band.


Composition of Monitored Private Sector Employees by Company Size
Number of
Number of Concerns
Roman Catholic
EmployeesPer cent Per cent Per centPer cent Per cent
Š=251,766(46.5) 17,679(59.5)11,117 (37.4)911(3.1) 29,707(11.6)
26-501,047(27.6) 21,716(58.2)14,542 (39.0)1,077(2.9) 37,335(14.5)
51-100507(13.4) 20,418(57.9)13,628 (38.7)1,203(3.4) 35,249(13.7)
101-250336(8.8) 29,707(57.6)19,993 (38.8)1,848(3.6) 51,548(20.1)
251+141(3.7) 61,707(59.8)37,482 (36.4)3,925(3.8) 103,114(40.1)
Total3,797(100) 151,227(58.9)96,762 (37.7)8,964(3.5) 256,953(100)

Change in the Roman Catholic Percentage of the Private Sector Workforce (Excluding Northern Ireland Electricity)
by Size 1990-97
Total number 19901991 199219931 1994119951 1996119971 Overall
of employeesPer centPer cent Per centPer centPer cent Per centPer centPer cent Per cent
Š=25 38.638.238.5 38.438.738.6 0.0
26-5037.538.6 39.840.740.4 41.039.940.1 +2.6
51-10036.636.6 37.438.440.4 40.040.840.1 +3.5
101-25035.735.9 38.338.040.4 +4.7
251+32.533.1 33.934.835.8 36.337.438.2 +5.7
1 Excludes concerns formed by the privatisation of Northern Ireland Electricity.


2.9 Public Sector

  Public Sector Monitoring Returns for 1997 detailed 122,504 applicants, their composition was 58.0 per cent Protestant and 42.0 Roman Catholic. The first full year for which monitoring information about applicants was available was 1991. Since 1991, the Roman Catholic share of male applicants has been between 40 per cent and 43 per cent while for female applicants it has been between 41 per cent and 44 per cent.

  The 1997 Monitoring Returns detailed 14,588 appointees to the public sector; their composition was 54.9 per cent Protestant and 45.1 per cent Roman Catholic. Since 1991, the Roman Catholic share of male public share appointees has varied between 39 per cent and 44 per cent. For female appointees, the Roman Catholic share has been between 40 per cent and 46 per cent.
Roman Catholic percentages of Public Sector applicants 1991-1997
19911992 199319941995 19961997
Per centPer cent Per centPer centPer cent Per centPer cent
Males40.239.7 42.739.640.1 42.941.0
Females40.841.9 43.043.542.2 44.343.0
Total40.540.8 42.841.541.2 43.742.0

Roman Catholic percentages of public sector appointees 1991-97
19911992 199319941995 19961997
Per centPer cent Per centPer centPer cent Per centPer cent
Males39.439.7 40.840.640.0 43.743.1
Females40.940.4 41.941.442.3 44.446.3
Total40.340.1 41.541.141.5 44.145.1

2.10 Private sector

  There were 141 private sector concerns with 251 or more employees who supplied details on the composition of applicants and appointees during the previous year. Between 1991 and 1997, the Roman Catholic share of male applicants was between 39 per cent and 46 per cent. For females the Catholic share of applicants in the same period was between 44 per cent and 50 per cent. In the same period, the Catholic share of male appointees to private sector concerns was between 35 per cent and 45 per cent and for females the corresponding share of appointees was between 44 per cent and 48 per cent.
Roman Catholic percentages of private sector applicants 1991-97

19911992 199319941995 19961997
Per centPer cent Per centPer centPer cent Per centPer cent
Males39.041.0 41.141.342.2 46.043.8
Females44.144.9 46.244.846.1 50.147.2
Total41.342.8 43.342.943.9 47.945.3

Roman Catholic percentages of private sector appointees 1991-97
19911992 199319941995 19961997
Per centPer cent Per centPer centPer cent Per centPer cent
Males34.837.0 41.642.244.5 45.443.8
Females44.146.4 45.045.647.0 48.146.3
Total40.242.3 43.444.045.8 46.845.1


3.1 Employment Composition

  There have been quite significant changes in the composition of employment since the introduction of statutory monitoring in 1990. In the same period, the Catholic proportion of the economically active has also increased and the consequence is that the increases in the composition of employees is in part accounted for by the changes in the demographic structure; an increase in the Catholic share of employment is required to keep up with changing trends quite apart from the requirement to reduce the under-representation in employment.

  In the public sector, Catholic representation has increased to 42.7 per cent for women and all of the under-representation is now accounted for by men. Roman Catholic male employment has increased since 1990 but, at 33.3 per cent in 1997, still exhibits a significant under-representation. The under-representation is very largely accounted for by the very small number of Catholics in security related occupations. A substantial increase in the proportion of Catholics in these occupations is required if the under-representation of Catholic men in the public sector is to be eliminated.

  In the private sector, the greatest degree of the Catholic under-representation is in larger (251+ employees) firms, although the greatest improvements in composition also occurred in those firms in the period 1990-97. In terms of occupations, the Catholic representation has shown the greatest increase in occupations which have had rapid growth, particularly Managerial and Professional Occupations compared to Craft and Skilled Manual Occupations which have fallen in size and which have also shown the smallest change in composition.

3.2 Employment Flows

  Evidence of trends in employment since 1991 shows that, despite variations from year to year, the Catholic proportion of applicants has increased between 1991 and 1997 in both the public and private sector firms. There have also been increases in the Catholic share of appointees and, in most years, and for most occupational groups the Catholic share of appointees has been larger than that of employees in both the public and private sector.

3.3 Unemployment

  The 1971 Census showed that the Catholic male unemployment rate was 2.6 times that of the Protestant male unemployment rate. By the 1981 Census this had dropped to 2.4 times and by the 1991 census this had dropped to 2.2 times. Unfortunately, since the last Census there is no totally reliable mechanism to measure to what extent the unemployment discrepancy has continued to decline. It would be the view of the Commission that, in view of the growth of Catholics in employment, which it believes is greater than the growth of the economically active Catholic population, the unemployment discrepancy has continued to decline. However, undoubtedly there is still a big discrepancy, particularly among the long-term unemployed where it is estimated that almost two-thirds are Catholic. It was for this reason the Commission in its submission to the SACHR review placed so much emphasis on the need to deal with the long-term unemployed. Both the SACHR report and the Government's response to it—White Paper: "Partnership for Equality" took on board this issue.


  4.1 In addition to assessing changes in employment composition and flows, in considering how successfully the legislation has succeeded in its objective to promote equality of opportunity, it is necessary to review changes in employment practices.

  The 1989 Act requires employers to actively practice fair employment;

    by registering with the Commission;

    by annually submitting information on the composition of their workforce; and

    by reviewing regularly their recruitment, training and promotion practices.

  Each year, in its annual report, the Commission has reported a very high level of compliance by employers with their statutory duties and has commended employers for their diligence in complying with their requirements.

  The Commission receives voluntarily a large number of reports of employer's reviews of their recruitment, training and promotion practices. The Commission also requests a large number of employers to forward their reports as the legislation permits it to do. The analysis of these reports shows that there have been considerable improvements in equality-based employment practices in recent years. Almost all employers now have adopted a written policy of equal opportunity and a very large proportion also have policies on sectarian harassment in the workplace and the display of flags and emblems. Informal recruitment methods such as word of mouth are much less in use and the majority of posts are filled by public advertisement. Standard application forms and job descriptions are common place and in general recruitment and selection is much more likely to be systematic and objective.

  During the year, the Fair Employment Commission carried out 597 presentations and training seminars attended by 8,065 participants. This was a 12 per cent increase on the previous year and the highest ever in one year to date. The level of interest in fair employment shown by those working in the labour market continues to grow.


  5.1 The 1989 Act introduced the use of affirmative action and goals and timetables where imbalances are evident. The Commission has recommended the use of affirmative action where, following an investigation or consideration of an employers review, it has been evident that affirmative action has been required. At the present time, the Commission has 64 formal undertakings to implement affirmative action programmes with large employers which it is monitoring and reviewing regularly and which if need be could be enforced under Section 13 of the Act. In total, affirmative action programmes were in place with 137 private and public sector concerns at the end of March 1998. The Commission is pleased to report that, increasingly, private sector concerns are adopting open and visible outreach affirmative action measures, including links with schools and community organisations and job clubs and training organisations and the use of statements in public advertisements specifically welcoming applications from the under-represented community.


  One of the duties conferred on the Commission by the legislation is to work for the elimination of that discrimination which the Act makes unlawful. The 1989 Act replaced the 1976 Act mechanism for dealing with complaints of unlawful discrimination. Individual complaints of discrimination were transferred to the jurisdiction of the Fair Employment Tribunal. The Commission is empowered to assist complainants and indirect discrimination is specifically outlawed.

  It is very difficult to measure the actual levels of discrimination occurring in society and in consequence to assess its reduction. In other jurisdictions, researchers have attempted to test the prevalence of individual acts of discrimination by submitting matched pairs of fictitious applicants to employers to establish whether those from one group are treated more favourably than those of the other group. In those jurisdictions that has aroused controversy. In the past, a number of organisations have examined the possibility of carrying out such research in Northern Ireland but rejected it as too unlikely to be acceptable.

  As with other areas of unlawful activity, statistics are likely to record only a proportion of unlawful acts. It may be argued that the effectiveness of anti-discrimination provisions can be measured by their success in bringing unlawful discrimination into the open and providing effective redress for complainants. Since 1990, the Commission has received annually a large number of general enquiries (approximately 2,000 per annum) and in the last reporting year has commenced preliminary investigations in some 700 cases. The pattern of complaint contact increasingly shows that the majority of cases which are not withdrawn will be finalised by negotiated settlement. The Commission attaches considerable importance to the inclusion of remedial terms in such settlements in addition to providing financial or other redress for complainants.

  Of course, cases decided by the Fair Employment Tribunal and the Court of Appeal have implications for others than the complainant and employer involved. Notable in this respect have been cases dealing with the issue of sectarian harassment. This area has developed rapidly within the Tribunal and in consequence within the workplace in Northern Ireland. In particular, as a consequence of Tribunal decisions, it is now accepted:

    —  that triumphalist sectarian behaviour can be less favourable treatment to an employees detriment;

    —  there is no place in the workplace for the playing of party tunes;

    —  comments which by design or otherwise embarrass or intimidate employees because of their religious beliefs or political opinions are unlawful.

  The consequence of the establishment of such principles by the Tribunal is a change in workplace behaviour generally and the level of tolerance of such behaviour by employers. Other issues, determined by the Tribunal, such as systematic recruitment, have also encouraged widespread improvements in employment practices.


  As you are aware, following the review by SACHR after five years of implementing the Act, the Government published a White Paper: Partnership for Equality in March 1998 setting out the Government's proposals for future legislation and policies on employment equality in Northern Ireland.

  The Commission gave a broad welcome to the proposals in the White Paper which, together with the commitments on equality in the Belfast Agreement, represent a comprehensive package of action to further equality in Northern Ireland. A number of the proposals, notably the duty on the public sector to promote equality of opportunity and the establishment of an Equality Commission are already provided for in the Northern Ireland Bill which was brought to the House of Lords from the Commons on 31 July 1998. It would accordingly be inappropriate at this time to spell out separately the need for reform and I am instead copying to you the Commission's response to the White Paper.1[2] It is to be hoped that the 1989 Act will have been amended as a consequence of the present Government proposals by the time of its tenth anniversary.

15 September 1998

1   Mid Census 1996 Population Estimates by Community Affiliation. Paul Compton-Fair Employment Commission. Unpublished. Back

2   Not printed. Back

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