Wednesday 7 January 2009

Equality Commission Monitoring Report N° 18

On 16 December 2008 the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland published the 18th Fair Employment Monitoring Report, showing the proportions of Protestants and Catholics employed in most major public and private sector organisations.

All specified public sector bodies and private sector concerns with more than 25 employees have been monitored since 1990. Private sector concerns with 11 or more employees have been monitored since 1992. Part-time employees (those working less than 16 hours per week) were first monitored in 2001. Monitoring covers between 67%-69% of those in employment in Northern Ireland

The Monitoring Reports have become part of the furniture in Northern Ireland these days, so it might be opportune to remind ourselves of the reasons for such monitoring, and indeed the reasons for the Equality Commission itself. Though strongly denied by unionist politicians then and now, the need for strong legislation, a statutory body and regular monitoring of the employment situation came from the persistent discrimination against Catholics in the workforce by the predominantly Protestant employers. For much of Northern Ireland's existence as a semi-autonomous state its politically and economically dominant class was Protestant and unionist, and for reasons of strategy or simple bigotry members of this group practiced systematic discrimination against Catholics in housing and employment. Eventually the frustrations of the Catholics led to the civil rights movement and, arguably, the 25 year war by the IRA against the British state. Measures were quickly taken in response to the demands of the civil rights movement – responsibility for housing was removed from the mainly unionist-controlled district councils, the rights of business owners to multiple votes was removed, and fair employment legislation was enacted. The fact that, in 1998 (30 years after the civil rights movement began its campaign, and at a time when unionist politicians claimed that there was no discrimination) the British government felt it still necessary to maintain and even strengthen the legislation for, and the monitoring of, fair employment, demonstrates very clearly that in their eyes the discriminatory reflex was still extremely strong amongst employers.

The 18th report itself contains a few interesting details:

  • The overall Catholic share of the monitored full-time workforce has increased by 9.1%, from 34.9% in 1990 to 44.0% in 2007, with a corresponding decline in the Protestant share.
  • The Catholic male share has increased by 9.8%, from 32.0% in 1990 to 41.8% in 2007. This relatively low share probably represents the fact that many Catholic men work in small (and thus unmonitored) firms, often in the building or pub trades.
  • The Catholic female share has risen by 7.8 percentage points, from 38.5% to 46.3%. This relatively high share probably reflects the use of Catholic women by employers to fill two 'quotas' – the Catholic and the gender.
  • In numerical terms, and comparing only those sections of the workforce which were monitored in 1990, the net number of Catholic full-time employees has risen by nearly fifty per cent (48.7% or 56,138 employees) in the past seventeen years, from a figure of 115,266 in 1990 to 171,404 in 2007. During the same period, the Protestant full-time count grew by only 1.6%, a net rise of 3,380 employees, from 214,691 in 1990 to 218,071 in 2007.

The report also looks at job applicants in monitored workplaces, to ensure that the numbers recruited matches (more or less) that of applicants. The report notes that:

  • For the first time since statutory monitoring began, the overall number of Catholic applicants (270,921) "mirrored those from the Protestant community" (270,735). (In 2001, there were 57,000 more Protestant than Catholic applicants). In fact, those figures show that, for the first time ever, more Catholics than Protestants applied for jobs. As job applicants are usually (but not always) young people, this provides additional evidence of the emerging Catholic majority amongst the young. However, these figures should be read with caution, as clearly there were many multiple applications (as the 540,000 applicants outnumber the 530,000 employees in monitored workforces!)

Of those actually recruited, the report notes that:

  • There were 19,564 public sector appointments during 2007 (a fall of 5.9% on 2006); the Catholic share of these public sector appointments was 51.9%.
  • There were 81,717 private sector appointments during 2007 (an increase of 1.9% during the year); the Catholic share of these private sector appointments was 51.2%.

So the picture shown in this report is one of a continued increase in the Catholic proportion of the workforce, reflecting the continued increase in the population as a whole. The proportion of the whole workforce (16-65) that is Catholic is 44% and rising. The Catholic proportion of the entrants to the workforce is over 50%, which will ensure that the Catholic proportion continues to rise. It is clear from the census figures that the Catholic proportion of those approaching retirement age is considerably lower than the Protestant proportion. So many more Protestants than Catholics retire every year. The workforce will thus continue to become more Catholic and less Protestant.

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