Belfast Telegraph

Co Down college under fire after asking job applicants their political persuasion

By Staff Reporter

A Co Down college has been slammed for asking job applicants to state which political party they support.

All job application forms posted on the South Eastern Regional College (SERC) website ask prospective employees to submit their political opinion.

The question states: "Please indicate from the list below the political party that best represents your current political opinion." This is followed by a checklist with eight options, including Northern Ireland's five main political parties.

They can alternatively choose 'no political party', 'I prefer not to say' and 'other' on the Equal Opportunities Monitoring Form.

Green Party representative Hannah McNamara described the question as "redundant".

Miss McNamara, who graduated from the college in 2014, said: "I have to admit I have never seen any employer ask for this kind of information.

"It concerns me that SERC is gathering information on what is a very sensitive subject, especially when it is already gathering the usual information on religious denomination, sexual orientation, ethnic background, nationality and disability status.

"Gathering this additional information seems rather redundant.

"We are living in a post-Troubles world where people are rightly able to cast their vote with total anonymity and any suggestion that this information could be placed in a database will set alarm bells ringing.

"Quite apart from that, this checklist is a blunt instrument which excludes four of the party denominations found in the Assembly parties, including the Green Party.

"The Equality Commission has told me that this is an unusual question to include in an Equality Monitoring Form and that they do not regard it as an example of best practice.

"They have told me that they do not recommend that employers include this question.

"I will be writing to SERC asking them to reconsider the gathering of this highly sensitive material."

A spokeswoman for the college said the monitoring document was agreed and developed in "consultation" with the Equality Commission Northern Ireland.

The spokeswoman said: "As a public body we must comply with Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 which requires the college to monitor all nine equality categories, of which political opinion is one.

"The act places a clear onus on public authorities to put in place systems to collect relevant information and to make use of that information for assessing and monitoring the impact of their policies on the promotion of equality of opportunity.

"The best way of determining a person's sexual orientation, religious belief, political opinion, marital status, and so on, is to ask the person directly to classify themselves.

"For that reason, self-classification is the preferred method for collecting information on an individual's personal characteristics for the purpose of monitoring equality of opportunity.

"The college is also cognisance of the sensitive nature of this question and therefore provides applicants with an option for 'prefer not to say'."

An Equality Commission spokeswoman said: "The Northern Ireland Act does not define political opinion and the commission does not recommend a particular question as this is a matter for each public authority.

"Completion of these monitoring questions is not compulsory for applicants."

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