Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Revealed: the alarming extent of sectarianism in Northern Ireland workplaces

Sectarianism still remains deeply rooted within the private sector workplace in Northern Ireland, a new report has found.

The report claimed that significant work needs to be carried out to reduce prejudicial attitudes and tackle rising segregation.

Carried out by Trademark, the research and training agency, and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, it explored the continued impact of sectarianism in the workplace.

The authors who published the findings at the start of Community Relations Week described it as “worrying” and called for immediate action to be taken to deal with the problem.

The survey involved questioning around 50 people through ‘judgmental sampling' and an anonymous questionnaire answered by 2,500 workers in Asda.

The survey revealed that 44% of staff said they had experienced sectarian harassment.

And of a breakdown of the types of harassment experienced, 37% described it as so-called ‘banter’, 15% was verbal abuse, 21% was linked to flags and emblems, and 27% was ‘isolation’.

It also showed that out of the 2,500 surveyed, 13% indicated a direct experience of harassment across a range of equality issues in their workplace, including ageism, racism, sexism and sectarianism.

A further 7% said they had not experienced any issues personally but were aware of incidents affecting other workers.

The retail giant commissioned Trademark to deliver anti-sectarianism training for staff following an incident in July 2010.

A row broke out after employee Billy Hunter was fired from his position at the north Belfast branch of the supermarket chain for allegedly asking a delivery driver who was playing music in the company car park to play the ‘sash' instead of pop music.

Four days of protests were held outside the store.

It later emerged that Mr Hunter was handed a life sentence for shooting dead Thomas and John McErlane in 1975. He was later reinstated to his job.

The new report also warned that if organisations do not learn to deal with difference and promote shared workplaces, they may “unwittingly but effectively” oversee an increase in sectarian segregation in Northern Ireland.

Among the recommendations was to make greater efforts to ensure anti-sectarian training and dialogue remains a compulsory activity in the private sector.

Joe Law, co-director of Trademark, said: “We still live in a world of politeness, denial and avoidance and don't talk about anything controversial. It is important that this research can open up a proper debate on sectarianism.”

Dr Stephen Nolan, fellow co-director of Trademark, said: “Sectarianism is still a significant feature in the Northern Ireland workplace, and particularly in small and medium enterprises which fall outside Equality Commission Monitoring.

“We are constantly trying to open up the debate.

“I think when people read the report, they will be shocked.

“The levels of sectarian abuse are still high.”

He added: “You can't insulate the workplace from sectarianism but unions and employers need to do more to prepare for the inevitability of sectarian politics finding itself into the workforce.

“Even after all we've been through, we are still kind of ignoring it and hoping it will go away.

“But pretending it's not there does not help.

“Asda have gone the extra mile to deal with it. They didn't choose to, they had to.”

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