Equality watchdog: We oppose the religious teacher exception from fair employment laws

The 'teachers' exception' allows schools to lawfully discriminate on the grounds of religious belief in the promotion of teachers
The 'teachers' exception' allows schools to lawfully discriminate on the grounds of religious belief in the promotion of teachers
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I wish to respond to comments made by Jeff Dudgeon (Stranmillis course boost for integrated schools and non Catholic teachers,’ June 10) regarding his perception that the Equality Commission has not shown any willingness to call for action in relation to the removal of the teacher’s exception provisions from the fair employment law in Northern Ireland.

In contrast, the commission has a long standing position on the removal of the teachers’ exception from the Fair Employment and Treatment (NI) Order 1998.

Letter to the editor

Letter to the editor

The ‘teachers’ exception’ allows schools to lawfully discriminate on the grounds of religious belief, in the appointment and promotion of teachers; and also means that schools are not required to monitor the community composition of teachers, nor consider whether they are providing fair participation in the employment of teachers.

Following research and a subsequent investigation conducted in 2004, the commission made clear its view that all teachers should be able to enjoy the same legislative protections as other workers; and that the exception should be abolished at secondary level, with early consideration given to whether the exception should also be removed as regards primary schools.

Since then we have continued to call for action — including for example in our ‘Proposals for legislative reform’ submitted to the first minister and deputy first minister in 2009; our 2015 recommendations on ‘Sharing in education; and our 2016 recommendations for the Programme for Government (PfG) and Budget, as well as via a number of other consultation responses and engagements in the intervening years.

The Equality Commission will continue to call for improvements to our anti-discrimination laws, however as Mr Dudgeon’s letter recognises, ultimately the decision to change the law is the responsibility of elected representatives.

Darren McKinstry, Director of Policy and Strategic Enforcement, Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, Belfast