Belfast Telegraph

Ten years of fighting hard just to get on Equality terms

As businesses across Northern Ireland take part in anti-racist workplace week campaign, Evelyn Collins, chief executive of the equality commission, talks about how they are changing life

Just a few months ago we saw how racism continues to be an issue in our community.

The racially motivated attacks over the summer which saw Roma and Polish people fleeing their homes was a stark reminder to us all that we still have some way to go in our acceptance of difference.

But we also have to remember the strong reaction by all of the ordinary people who spoke out to reject the actions of a few.

Northern Ireland has changed dramatically over the last decade. Back in 2001 the census told us that 0.7% of the workforce was from an ethnic minority background. While current estimates of minority ethnic populations working in Northern Ireland are limited, the NISRA Migration Estimates (2008) report states: “the recent period since 2004 has seen significant population growth due to migration.”

It continues: “Migrants from the expanded EU are the main source of increased migration. Most people from the new EU states coming to Northern Ireland to work must register with the Home Office Worker Registration Scheme (WRS). The WRS shows that, in the year to June 2008, some 7,800 people registered to work in Northern Ireland. By number, Polish migrants are the largest group of migrants from the new EU states, accounting for nearly 60% of such migrants.”

We deal with thousands of enquiries from employers each year and know that there are some common concerns amongst those who have, or wish to develop, a more diverse workforce, including lack of understanding of |qualification equivalences, how to help new staff with settling in matters like language, accommodation and bank accounts and how to spot and stop any tensions developing with existing staff.

We support public and |private sector organisations alike each year through training and advice to help them ensure their practices are not discriminatory.

It is encouraging to see so many workplaces taking on their responsibilities seriously. Nearly half of all companies who have worked with us to develop a voluntary equality plan with a particular focus on race are from the private sector. And it is here that we see really exciting and creative approaches like Translink, the launch host of Anti-Racist Workplace Week, who have been very proactive in recognising the different language and cultural needs of those from abroad.

There has been a significant rise in the number of commercially based organisations who have signed up with us against racism. Stores like Tesco, Ikea and Co-op will be promoting the Anti-Racist Workplace Week, as are lots of businesses in the entertainment sector in Cathedral Quarter in Belfast.

Companies like breadmakers Genesis and delivery company DHL are getting involved along with hundreds of other large and small businesses who will be attending events in Belfast, Ballymena, Craigavon, Dungannon, Lisburn and Newry.

In 2008/9, of the 3,500 enquiries the Commission received from people with a potential complaint, 15% were race related; so we are well aware that race discrimi

nation remains a significant problem, both inside and outside the workplace.

But it is also true that, when we asked people in Northern Ireland about their attitudes on equality issues, we found that people were more ready to accept people from minority ethnic groups and other nationalities as colleagues in the workplace, than they were in their neighbourhoods or in family life.

To sign up for free training or advice for your business or to find out more about Anti-Racism Workplace Week call 02890 890890 or log on to

Belfast Telegraph