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Workers using law to fight back on ageism

Resource type: News

Irish Examiner |

by Caroline O’Poherty WORKERS spurned by ageist employers are fighting back with anti-discrimination law. Age discrimination is now the most common reason employees seek help from the Equality Authority to force bosses to comply with the Employment Equality Act. Niall Crowley, chief executive of the authority, said the main complaints come from workers who suspect their age is the reason they failed to get a job, were overlooked for promotion or were pushed out of work prematurely through rigid retirement rules or redundancy. “It’s reflective of a significant ageism in the workplace and in society generally, of how we decide what a person’s contribution is purely on the basis of their chronological age instead of taking into account individual ambition, capacity and personality,” he said. The Equality Authority’s annual report shows the body had 737 cases last year, roughly half of them under the Employment Equality Act, which prohibits discrimination in the workplace. About another half cite the Equal Status Act which outlaws discrimination in access to services such as healthcare, education, transport, shops and entertainment venues, while a small number arise under the Intoxicating Liquor Act in relation to access to pubs. Many of the cases are referred to the Equality Tribunal for mediation while in others, the Equality Authority agrees to formally represent the complainant in -the courts. There are nine specified grounds under which discrimination is banned: age, gender, race, disability, sexual orientation, religion, marital status, family status and membership of the Traveller community. While age, race and gender were the most common grounds for complaint about workplace discrimination; disability, membership of the Traveller community and age were most frequently cited in relation to services. Mr Crowley said people with disabilities were increasingly challenging the failure of both employers and service providers to make what the law terms “reasonable accommodation” for them which can often be as simple as installing ramps, having low counters reachable by people using wheelchairs or providing information in Braille. “It’s characteristic of an inflexibility in the mindset. Its a case of ‘this is the way it’s always been done’ and an inability to see a new way of doing it,” said Mr Crowley. Gender discrimination was also a major part of the authority’s case work last year, with practically all the complaints relating to women workers enduring sexual harassment, missing out on promotions or being sidelined because of pregnancy. “There is a mythology that this is an issue that has been dealt with” and it’s in the past but it’s very, very, persistent. It’s deeply embedded and there is a real danger that if it isn’t challenged, it becomes normal.” Mr Crowley called for a strengthening of the equality legislation along the lines of laws in place in Britain and the north. “There is a duty not to discriminate here as opposed to a duty to have regard for equality and diversity. It’s a negative duty as opposed to a positive one. “I think a positive duty would have more impact.”

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