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How is our work influencing life in Northern Ireland and delivering equality? Learn more about our policy, legal and research work.


Employment equality

What you need to know

Consultation responses



Improving access to, and progression within, employment is a key driver of economic and social wellbeing. It is also a route out of poverty for some groups protected by the equality laws to improved social mobility and inclusion.

The economic context, welfare reform and cuts in the public sector along with wider government policy will all impact on the employment opportunities for different groups.

Learn more about the Commission's work in this area:

Programme for Government: our recommendations

The Equality Commission has set out its recommendations in relation to the next Programme for Government and Budget of the NI Executive. These include actions relating to employment, namely to:

  • support women’s economic participation, including through access to appropriate, accessible and affordable childcare
  • address the exploitation and forced labour of migrant workers and the concentration of some minority ethnic workers in low paid employment
  • support people with disabilities to access and remain in the workplace
  • ensure training and programmes to enable people to get into or stay in work that are accessible and inclusive for all

Further information:

Also see our key point briefing (pdf) or recommendations in full (pdf, 2016)

 Commission responses to PfG proposed delivery plans:


Further information is available on the Programme for Government section of our website


Employment inequalities

The Commission has highlighted the need to address inequalities in employment experienced by Section 75 groups.

The removal of barriers to work, including those experienced by women, people with disabilities, older people and minority ethnic workers, will contribute to realising Northern Ireland’s full economic potential with improved employment opportunities for all.

A specific focus for the Commission is economic independence, specifically mindful of the needs of women. We have highlighted that the availability of appropriate, accessible and affordable childcare provision is a fundamental part of mothers entering, remaining and progressing in work.

We have also raised the need to promote flexible working practices and to encourage men to share responsibility for childcare; as well as to address the concentration of women in part time, low paid work and to mitigate the impact of rebalancing the economy.

We recommend action to reduce discrimination in employment, including due to pregnancy and maternity and disability. There is clear evidence of the economic exclusion of people with disabilities. People with disabilities face barriers to employment and require support in terms of accessing and remaining in the workplace.

Further, we recommend support for initiatives aimed at tackling the exploitation of migrant workers; reducing ethnic minority disadvantage in employment; raising awareness of the rights of migrant workers; and maximising migrant workers access to the labour market.

The Commission is currently updating its evidence base on key inequalities in employment. This information will be available shortly.

Employment is one of the six broad areas reviewed in the Commission’s Statement of Key Inequalities (pdf, 2007). The statement identifies some of the persistent inequalities, barriers and issues experienced by groups protected by the equality laws.

Gender pay strategy and pay reporting

We call for prompt action to bring Section 19 of the Employment Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 (‘the Act’) into force, and to introduce a gender pay strategy and associated action plan, in tandem with the introduction of Gender Pay Gap Reporting Regulations in Northern Ireland.

The gender pay gap

Guidance to Employers on Equal Pay 
The Commission has produced practical guidance for employers on how to promote equality of opportunity and avoid sex discrimination in pay structures:

While the law governing equal pay can seem complex, its purpose in essence is very simple – to ensure that men and women doing equal work or work of equal value for the same or an associated employer get the same rewards for it.


Disability and employment

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) aims to ensure that disabled people enjoy the same human rights as everyone else and that they can participate fully in society by receiving the same opportunities as others.

The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) are jointly responsible, as the Independent Mechanism for Northern Ireland (IMNI), for promoting, protecting and monitoring implementation of the Convention in Northern Ireland.

The Commission and NIHRC have set out the issues in a range of areas that Government and others need to address to implement fully the convention. In relation to employment IMNI have identified the following issues:

  • employment gap for disabled people
  • shortcomings with welfare to work measures
  • attitudinal barriers

Person with disabilities make up 26% of the total figure of those classed as economically inactive in Northern Ireland. The employment rate for people without disabilities is nearly twice that of persons without disabilities (32%), mirroring a similar ratio in relation to those without educational qualifications. According to a 2013 survey, most people claiming the main unemployment benefit, Job Seekers Allowance, had worked since 2010. This figure contrasts significantly with the experience of persons with disabilities which show just 12% of respondents with a disability had worked since 2010.

IMNI has called for consideration to be given to what measures, including outcome focused actions, policies, laws and programmes and the collection of appropriate data, will be taken to:

(i) assist persons with complex disabilities into employment in Northern Ireland; and
(ii) improve the overall employment situation of persons with disabilities in Northern Ireland?

Childcare and early learning

The Equality Commission has called for action to ensure appropriate, accessible, flexible and affordable childcare and early-years provision to meet the diverse needs of parents, carers, and children from across the range of equality categories. For more information, and to see our recommendations and supporting rationales, see

Download our full childcare policy priorities and recommendations:

Childcare research: Maximising the Economic participation of Women
Improvements to childcare provision in Northern Ireland are central to equality and for encouraging females to participate in the labour market. To inform the development of childcare policy options in Northern Ireland the Commission published an expert paper which focused on five key areas:

  • The need for a childcare strategy
  • An increase in the supply of childcare
  • Greater equality of access to childcare
  • Addressing barriers to employment
  • Changes in attitudes towards childcare and mothers’ employment

For full details read our research on 'Childcare: Maximising the Economic participation of Women':


Racial equality in employment

Racial equality in Employment is one of the key areas identified in a comprehensive policy paper (August 2014) setting out the Commission’s priorities on racial equality.

Racial harassment in the workplace remains a key issue of concern representing a large percentage of all legal enquiries to the Commission. Poor English language skills, problems in accessing childcare, gaps in legal protection as well as a failure on the part of employers to recognise overseas qualifications and low expectations on the part of workers are all specific racial equality issues.

Forced labour and the extreme exploitation of migrant workers are also issues of concern in addition to the limited remit of the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004.

The Commission is calling for targeted initiatives to maximise BME participation in employment, training and volunteering as well as ensuring better access to employment supports such as childcare and ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages).

Specific recommendations include:

  • A call on the Executive to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families
  • The need for the phenomena of exploitation and forced labour to be considered by OFMDFM in the context of the revised Racial Equality Strategy

Support for initiatives aimed at tackling the exploitation of migrant workers; reducing ethnic minority disadvantage in employment; raising awareness of the rights of migrant workers and maximizing migrant workers access to the labour market.


  • The need for the UK Government to extend the remit of the Gangmaster’s (Licensing Act 2004) to all sectors where migrant labour is prevalent.
  • Ensure that the Bright Starts Framework / NI Childcare strategy includes actions to address the specific needs of minority ethnic parents
  • The development by DEL, in collaboration with relevant training providers and NGOs, of Traveller specific, long-term initiatives to improve employment opportunities for Travellers.
    There should be a greater focus on including Travellers in mainstream employment training provision including support in employment and training. Initiatives should incorporate learning from projects such as Belfast Health and Social Services Trust (BHSST) Traveller employment project, where two Travellers are employed as Traveller Health Liaison Workers.
  • DEL should take action as part of a Roma Inclusion Strategy to support the Roma community into employment

This should be done by supporting self-employment; providing first work experience and vocational and on-the-job training and by providing access to lifelong learning and skills development. DEL should also identify ways for Roma to enter mainstream employment based on learning from successful international projects such as the Spanish Acceder project.


  • Part of a broader integration strategy, OFMDFM increases access to employment & volunteering opportunities for refugees

It should ensure that employability strategies and mainstream services benefit and are accessible for refugee users, and that the Department broadens the range of volunteering experiences for asylum seekers.


  • DEL should consider how best to address the issues raised by the Law Centre in its input to the DEL review of the ESOL pilot

This should include the merits of designating English as an ‘Essential Skill’ and steps to improve ESOL provision should also address the particular barriers experienced by refugee women.

For further information read our racial equality policy positions:


Sexual orientation equality in employment

Sexual orientation equality in employment is one of the areas addressed in our policy paper Promoting Sexual Orientation Equality - Priorities and Recommendations (pdf, 2013). It highlights that workplace harassment is one of the top sexual orientation related issues raised by those making enquiries to the Commission.

It also identifies that specific strategic action is needed in:

  • tackling prejudicial attitudes and behaviours specifically homophobic hate crimes, harassment both inside and outside workplace and homophobia in schools
  • promoting positive attitudes and
  • raising awareness of rights of LGB people

We recommend that the NI Executive take targeted action, working in conjunction with the Equality Commission and in partnership with the LGB sector, aimed at:

  • the provision of additional support, advice and information to employers on making their organisations more LGB friendly, particularly Small Medium Sized (SMEs) businesses
  • raising awareness of responsibilities under the equality legislation and sharing of good practice
  • additional research on the establishing the evidence base on the business benefits of having LGB friendly workplaces
  • encouraging employers to promote LGB equality in the workplace through the range of potential actions highlighted in the paper
For further information see pages 17-20 of our publication:


How have we advised Government on policy issues?

We are frequently asked to consider and comment on government policy and strategy documents on our areas of expertise.


Here are our most recent responses to consultations on the employment sector (most recent first):

More available in our consultation responses archive


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