Belfast Telegraph

Filipino staff fear blowing whistle on racist slurs at work, says report

By Noel McAdam

Almost half of the Filipino community in Northern Ireland has been racially abused at work, a shock survey has revealed.

And a third — many of them employed in private nursing homes and hospitals — claimed the racist slurs came from their bosses, according to the report by the NI Council for Ethnic Minorities (NICEM).

But because they depend on work permits, they will not blow the whistle or register complaints, NICEM chairman Patrick Yu told the Belfast Telegraph.

He and a NICEM delegation on Tuesday met the Assembly group on ethic minorities to discuss greater protection for Filipino immigrants and others.

And that could lead to an Assembly debate in the near future urging the Executive to include improved protection within its so-called ‘equality’ strategy.

Committee chairman David McIlveen (DUP) said: “I think going down the route of legislation might only lead to more delays, but this report is highlighting an issue we have known to be there for some time and which must be addressed.

“There is a potential loophole in that the employment and other protections given to citizens of the European Union do not apply to immigrants.”

The survey shows there has been virtually no improvement since Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety research six years ago in which 48% of Filipino nurses reported abuse.

The new report showed 48.1% reporting abuse by colleagues, 33.3% by their boss, 44.4 % from customers or service users — giving a figure of 41.5 % overall.

It also discovered nearly 28% of the respondents are in Northern Ireland under an agency which means they have less protection compared with ordinary employees.

Mr Yu said: “Remember a lot of these people need to renew their work permits regularly. They will not make trouble.

“If they whistleblow, their employers will not be too happy. And yet if they were to go home, a lot of areas — not least the health service — would be in trouble.”

He also appeared recently before the Assembly committee which monitors the Office of First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness where he spelt out the poverty plight facing many in the Filipino community.

“Quite a lot of these people work in private nursing homes, where their pay package is just above the minimum wage. So, the average wage for them is between £6.50 and £7 an hour in Northern Ireland,” Mr Yu said.

“As you can imagine, there is a lot of inflation, including the need to send money home, and given the variation of sterling over the past two or three years, their disposable income is much lower than they expected.”

SDLP MLA Colum Eastwood said he wanted the appropriate Executive Minister to see “if there can be any extension of workers' rights to those employed via an agency outside this jurisdiction”.

Mr Yu said criminal justice powers had been transferred to the Assembly which now has the power to make laws providing greater protection — but it needed to be sooner rather than later.

Committee chairman Mike Nesbitt, the Ulster Unionist leader, asked: “Do you sense any great urgency within government to engage with you?

“No,” said Mr Yu. “We are all being lumped into the fate of the Single Equality Bill, so there is no movement.

“We need to look at why race issues are always at the bottom of the pecking order. That will not change until things at the top move, which is not fair.”

Background

Over the last decade the Filipino community in Northern Ireland has grown to around 1,300. Many of them tend to work as nurses in the health service, private nursing homes, where pay can be just above minimum wage, and in the fishing industry.

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