The very basis of the Equality Commission should be to help communities who are facing problems in terms of employment opportunities.
On the very first page of the 26th Fair Employment Monitoring Report the Commission indicates that in every year since 2006 Protestants have been underrepresented in those appointed to jobs. This is important as it is across all of Northern Ireland, both public and private sectors, tens of thousands of jobs.
My scrutiny of the Equality Commission is not new. I have been campaigning on these issues for a very long time. The fact that many of the problems highlighted years or even decades ago are still prevalent today only serves to compound the failures of this organisation.
Whilst telling others how to avoid an imbalanced workforce, the Commission itself has made no progress in addressing the imbalance within its own workforce. In every year since the Commission was established there has been an under-representation of the Protestant community within its workforce. In the latest Fair Employment Monitoring Report, published just this month, the figures once again show that only 35.8% of its employees are from the Protestant Community. This has remained virtually unchanged for almost 10 years.
Questions will always be asked about the Equality Commission’s pursuit of others when there has either been no real action to tackle problems within its own organisation, or the action has been total ineffective. The Secretary of State appointed a new Commission in October. For a body with such a poor record and perception within the unionist community, there needs to be an urgent re-evaluation of the body itself and most importantly wider employment trends across Northern Ireland. There is a particular challenge on the shoulders of the new commission as to what changes occur during their tenure. The challenge also rests with the Secretary of State to see a more balanced appointment process to the body itself in the future.
There is nothing within this annual report aimed at taking action to redress a decade long trend of under-representation of Protestants. It is totally unacceptable for the statutory body responsible for overseeing fair employment practices to report that Protestants are LESS likely to be appointed to jobs over a 10-year period and not outline what action they intend to take to try and ensure a more balanced outcome.
There are cases where progress has been made, including bodies such as the Housing Executive which I and other colleagues highlighted over many years.
However, that change did not come about through efforts of the Equality Commission, but through many years of behind the scenes efforts and high-profile political campaigning to put the issue on the agenda.
I have tabled a motion in the House of Commons to bring some focus on the continued inaction and failure of the Equality Commission. The inaction on long-term employment trends which impact upon the Protestant community and the differential approach taken by the Commission to certain high-profile cases, there appears to be a systemic problem within the Equality Commission.
Responsibility for the Commission appointments lies at Westminster with the Secretary of State who must ensure this repeated failure is addressed as a matter of urgency.