Belfast Telegraph

Women still fighting for equal opportunity in Northern Ireland

 

Emma Carson
Emma Carson
Kelly English
Adrian Rutherford

By Adrian Rutherford

More than one in five complaints received by Northern Ireland's equality watchdog relates to sex discrimination.

It is the second biggest issue raised, behind disability.

The Equality Commission said many women are still experiencing unfair treatment, with the problem affecting all levels and types of workplace.

The body has recently worked with four women who took cases against their employers.

The total compensation awarded for the four separate cases, which were settled without admission of liability, amounted to £48,000.

It includes a £20,000 payout to an operations manager at a waste services company who was made redundant while on maternity leave.

Anne McKernan, director of legal services at the Equality Commission, said many working women are still experiencing unfair treatment and being penalised for being pregnant and taking maternity leave.

She said: "Every year the Equality Commission continues to be contacted by women who believe they have been treated unfairly at work because they are pregnant or on maternity leave.

"On average more than a fifth of complaints of discrimination received by the Commission are about sex discrimination - of these 21.5% are to do with pregnancy or maternity."

"The issues raised are not confined to any particular sector and it is happening regardless of the level, type or grade of job held by women," Ms McKernan continued.

In 2018/19, more people than ever rang the Equality Commission's discrimination advice line. The 4,141 calls received were a 25% increase on the 3,298 calls received 10 years ago.

Around a quarter of the calls related to sex discrimination.

Ms McKernan said employers needed to be more mindful of equality legislation.

She added: "Working women are an essential part of building and maintaining a successful economy. It is vitally important that we retain these skilled, knowledgeable and experienced women.

"The onus is on employers to ensure that they operate within the law.

"The law offers protection to ensure that women who are pregnant and those with young families are able to remain in, and continue to advance within, the workforce.

"We must ensure that employment opportunities are open to everyone and that the barriers faced by women in work due to their pregnancy or maternity are dismantled."

Science officer

Emma Carson worked at scientific officer level in the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) from 2011.

She was employed though an agency contract with Premiere People NI. The project she was working on prior to maternity leave was due to end shortly, and she was not assigned another project. In May 2018 her contract was terminated. She believed she had been discriminated against as a result of taking maternity leave.

Premiere Employment Group Ltd T/A Premiere People NI and DAERA paid £10,000 jointly, without admission of liability.

Operations manager

Kelly English worked for Biffa Waste Services Ltd for a decade and was employed as an operations manager.

While on maternity leave she was made redundant. She believed that she was the only person made redundant at that time. She alleged that she was not informed of suitable alternative employment and other employees who were also at risk of redundancy were able to attend employment training events.

As part of the settlement terms Biffa Waste Services Ltd paid £20,000, without admission of liability, to Ms English.

Childcare assistant

Mihiola Rea was employed as a childcare assistant at Allstars Out of School Club. She was dismissed from her job shortly after telling her employer she was pregnant. At the time of her dismissal she was on pregnancy-related sick leave.

The dismissal letter informed her that her employment would cease at the end of her probation period. Ms Rea believed that she had already completed her probationary period as she had worked there for more than six months. She received £7,500 as part of the settlement terms of her case, which were agreed without admission of liability.

Shop assistant

Pauline Kearney worked as a shop assistant for Mary and William McVeigh, trading as Costcutter Dunavil in Kilkeel.

She believed her employer became abrupt and made her feel uncomfortable after she informed them of her pregnancy.

When she asked about returning to work after maternity leave, she alleged she was told her role was temporary and that they didn’t think she would get pregnant. She was not given her job back. Ms Kearney received £10,500 without admission of liability.

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