Chief Commissioner Michael Wardlow explains why getting equality right in the workplace is essential for the business community.
'View from the Chair' article by Dr Michael Wardlow, Chief Commissioner, Equality Commission NI, as published in the Business Newsletter, 24 June 2014
It’s an old media cliché that “good news is no news” and that is as true in the coverage of industrial relations issues as it is in politics.
Stories highlighting bad employment practice are frequently found on the news pages and radio and TV bulletins. It could be a story about someone who had been treated unfairly in the workplace by other staff or by their employers. It might be about a disabled person, who was not offered reasonable adjustments to enable them to carry on working. Or it might be racial or religious harassment, sex discrimination or an employee being bullied because of their sexual orientation.
In the Equality Commission we know such things still happen too frequently - the Commission dealt with well over three thousand enquiries about potential discrimination cases in the last year alone. We support a number of these people in taking legal action, and the media coverage of Tribunal decisions or settlements plays an important role in highlighting examples of what constitutes bad practice and discriminatory behaviour in the workplace.
But the positive outcome from our legal assistance work doesn’t end with the media profile it gives to the issues in each case. Settlement terms agreed between the Commission and the employers almost always include commitments on follow-up contact, advice and remedial action to ensure that the same problems don’t recur.
And, of course, the Commission also works proactively with employers in training programs and advice sessions, which show very high success levels in terms of satisfaction ratings and, more importantly, improved practices. There is a huge amount of good employment practice in N Ireland and it doesn’t get such a high media profile as the more headline grabbing “bad news” stories.
The Commission devotes considerable resources to our work with employers because getting equality right in the workplace is essential, both for our goals and for the business community itself. We provide support and expertise to help with all equality related issues and give advice and guidance on a free and confidential basis.
Many employers in Northern Ireland, who are managing diverse workforces professionally and effectively in often difficult circumstances, may not recognise their day to day achievements as “best practice”, but the Commission is always keen to hear about what is being done well in our offices and factories and sites. We organise many events and seminars where employers can share their experiences and learn from the achievements of others in dealing with a wide range of equality issues. We can be contacted through on 028 90500600 or by email.