Teachers ‘should be treated equally’

The exemption of teachers in Northern Ireland from fair employment legislation should be abolished, the chief commissioner of the Equality Commission has said.

Calls for change to employment legislation for teachers
Calls for change to employment legislation for teachers

Geraldine McGahey told the Stormont Executive Office committee that teachers were entitled to the same protections and monitoring requirements as all other professions.

The recruitment of teachers is currently exempt from legislation outlawing religious discrimination.

The committee is examining the Fair Employment (School Teachers) Bill, which aims to end the exemption.

Ms McGahey told the committee: “We firmly believe that all teachers should be able to enjoy the same legislative protection as other workers and should also be included in the monitoring and review requirements as are other occupations.

“If the exception was removed, like other employers, schools would no longer be able to lawfully discriminate on the grounds of religious belief or political opinion on the appointment of teachers in schools.”

She added: “The commission is strongly of the view that teachers should be able to enjoy the same legislative protection as other workers.

“Our long-standing recommendation is that this exception should be abolished.”

Committee chair Sinead McLaughlin asked if there are similar exemptions being applied for teachers in other jurisdictions.

Darren McKinstry, from the Equality Commission, told MLAs that an exemption was written into EU law many years ago but it was “specifically because of the exemption that was in place in Northern Ireland”.

The committee also heard evidence from Karen Jardine, from the Transferor Representatives’ Council (TRC), which represents Protestant churches and makes nominations for governors in controlled schools.

She said: “The TRC is supportive of further equality of opportunity in teacher recruitment and is generally opposed to discrimination on the grounds of religious belief, unless the nature of the job requires it to be done by a person holding, or not holding, a particular religious belief.

“One of the questions for the committee to consider is, if the veto exemption is removed, in what way can a board of governors ensure that those employed by the school will work to uphold that school’s ethos?”