THE DUP and republicans are at loggerheads over Sinn Fein claims that the latest figures from the Equality Commission on the breakdown of Northern Ireland's workforce could be skewed by the numbers of migrants now working here, putting Catholics at a disadvantage.
The DUP has dismissed the claim, saying it’s a smokescreen to hide the emergence of a pattern putting unionists at a disadvantage.
Sinn Fein equality spokeswoman Martina Anderson said she was concerned that large numbers of migrant workers from mainly Catholic countries were being classed as ‘Catholic/nationalist’ in monitoring forms, rather than ‘other’.
She said this could lead to skewed figures and show the local Catholic community being artificially over-represented in the workforce.
The Foyle MLA said she welcomed the Equality Commission’s 17th annual report, but was worried about inaccuracy.
“Monitoring under the Fair Employment and Treatment Order (FETO) is an important aspect of the equality agenda in measuring, as far as it can, whether we have fair representation in the workforce.
“However, on initial scrutiny, the party is deeply concerned with the accuracy of the monitoring data on this occasion.
“Given that the entire basis of the legislation around monitoring was put in place to identify imbalances in the workforce between the local Catholic/nationalist and Protestant/ unionist communities it is therefore vital that given the addition of migrant workers in the workforce, that they should clearly be categorised as having a community background of ‘other’.
“Employers do not perceive migrant workers as belonging to the local nationalist or unionist communities and this is artificially inflating the Catholic/nationalist representation in the workforce, the bulk of whom are from Catholic countries.
“Therefore, for the purposes of FETO monitoring, they should not be counted as such.
“Despite this, it appears as though many migrant workers, coming from Catholic countries, are being categorised as having a community background of ‘Catholic’ rather than ‘other’.”
DUP MP Gregory Campbell said Sinn Fein was trying to obscure the true picture.
“If you take this issue of categorisation to its logical conclusion, it would mean that everyone not born here would have to be described as ‘others’ or ‘outsiders’ – it’s ludicrous.
“If people are coming to work here, they are part of the Northern Ireland community so you don’t continue to categorise them as outsiders or ‘others’ as this can make the situation worse.”
He said Sinn Fein had a problem with what the figures were showing.
“The figures show an emerging pattern which is Protestant under-representation in the workforce and this is a smokescreen to try and divert attention from the real issue, which is to address that under-representation which I and others have been highlighting for years now.”