Seanad Éireann - Volume 93 - 05 December, 1979

Private Business. - Employment Equality Agency Report: Motion.

Mrs. Robinson: I move:

That Seanad Éireann notes the First Annual Report of the Employment Equality Agency and in view of the specific reference in the Report to the fact that “the Agency felt constrained in its activities in the period under review by the limitations imposed upon it by the insufficient Exchequer Grant under which it operated” calls upon the Government as a matter of urgency to provide adequate funding to enable the Employment Equality Agency to carry out its important functions which are essential to the achievement in practice of the principle of equality enshrined in the Employment Equality Act, 1977.

I am pleased to propose this motion, which concerns the first report of the Employment Equality Agency. The span of the report is the first 15 months of the agency, from October 1977 to December 1978. The motion refers to an extract [498] from that report and I should like to quote the full paragraph, because it refers to the fact that the agency feels that it has been inadequately funded to discharge its statutory responsibilities and its functions. The full extract which is at page 7, paragraph 5, is as follows:

The Agency felt constrained in its activities in the period under review by the limitations imposed upon it by the insufficient Exchequer Grant under which it operated. The main effects of the budgetary constraints were that

—the Agency was unable to acquire premises separate from the Department of Labour which might have helped to foster its independent identity

—the Agency could not commission research, as envisaged under the Act, and which it felt was essential to the identification of patterns of discrimination in employment.

—two of its staff posts were left unfilled in order to conserve resources.

I begin by concentrating on this issue of funding; with the Minister present in the House and with the timing of the preparations for the February budget, this is where the primary emphasis must be. I address myself to the Minister because he is kindly here, but we are referring to a collective responsibility. The funding of the agency is the collective responsibility of the Government and it is in that sense, certainly, that I approach the question. It is clear from the report of the agency that, in its first 15 months, it received a grant from the Department of Labour of £96,263 and for its second period, which is this year of 1979, it received a grant of £95,000. It is also clear that a very substantial portion of that grant was taken up by fixed costs, by the cost of administration and the rent paid to the Department of Labour; in other words, by the fixed elements of its overall budget. If that were true of its first 15 months, it must be even more true of the grant for 1979; in real terms, more of its budget must be used up by salaries and the amount in rent to the Department.

In the first report, the amount which was left over for all the activities of the [499] EEA was less than £30,000 and probably a lesser percentage was left over for these activities during 1979. I welcome any comment the Minister might make on that. It is a fair judgment on the matter. If that is the case, then what we need—and we need it at this point—is a new appraisal of the role of the Employment Equality Agency and a different order of funding which reflects this appraisal. It is important that, in 1980, the approach to funding the agency is not one which barely keeps pace with inflation and with salary increases, but which marks a completely different assessment of the role and work of the agency. I would submit to the Minister—and hope he will comment on this—that to treble the funding of the agency would not be over-generous. To give them a basic budget for 1980 of the order of £285,000, which would be trebling the £95,000 for 1979 would not be out of line with the role and function which the Agency are required, under the legislation, to carry out but their first report says clearly that they are not in a position to do. This has left them short of staff, not able to carry out research and not able to acquire the separate premises which would give them an independent identity.

It is desirable, and would have an educational effect, if the agency were to be in separate premises. Even if that had to await a certain amount of time, involving as it must capital expenditure, they must have adequate staff and research capacity; these things have a bearing on the budget for 1980.

Despite the handicap of being underfinanced and understaffed, I pay tribute to the members and to the work carried out by the Employment Equality Agency. I pay tribute to the chairman, Sylvia Meehan, the members of the agency and the staff. It is customary, when dealing with a report of this sort, to pay tribute and to say a few polite words. In this case, the tribute is very well warranted. The report is evidence of very hard, thorough work being done and of a genuine concern by the agency to fulfil their function. This is clear from [500] the introduction to the report, where it is well summarised.

I might refer, first, to the nature of the problems which the agency face. This is set out in very clear summary form at page 5 of the report, summarising the overall situation in relation to women workers in the State. The agency point out that approximately 28 to 30 per cent of the labour force are women and that almost two-thirds of these women are under 30 years of age. They then show the various kinds of discriminations, or limitations on their access to equal pay or to employment opportunities. It points out that, whereas girls outnumber boys in academic successes at Leaving Certificate level, nevertheless just over one-third of those in third-level education are women. This is something which requires explanation and research. Less than 2 per cent of female university graduates take up employment in industry, compared with 11 per cent of male graduates. What is the conditioning there? What are the factors that influence their choices? The agency points out that the recruitment of girls into designated trades apprenticeship was not introduced until 1975. On 30 September 1978, there were 42 female apprentices registered with AnCO, as against 17,932 male apprentices. Although there is the beginning of female apprenticeship and although AnCO is doing a considerable job in promoting opportunities for female apprentices, there is a very long way to go. It is not something which will come naturally, through market forces. It is something that has to be very carefully planned for, promoted and encouraged.

Again, the agency point out that in the civil service and local authorities, where there is a high concentration of women workers, only 7 per cent of senior positions are held by women. The agency made a very valid statement about the approach that is needed and I strongly support the approach that they adopt. I would like to quote from page 5 of the report because it summarises where the agency should be going from now on, with the full support of other bodies which are mentioned in this quotation:

[501] Changes in this picture will not come simply from claims made under legislation, even when the success rate is high. In Ireland there is clearly defined and widespread job segregation; the agency has not yet become aware of efforts made by employers to take positive steps to end this segregation. Use must be made of the provisions of the Employment Equality Act which allow positive discrimination in providing special training schemes for members of one sex to obtain qualifications which have largely been the preserve of the other sex. Few organisations appear to have reached even the elementary stage of producing a policy statement or a jointly agreed equal opportunity clause in industry or company collective agreements.

Affirmative action in these areas requires co-operation between the Industrial Development Authority, the National Manpower Service, An Chomhairle Oiliúna (AnCO) and the Unions who organise workers in new enterprises and the employers. The Agency hopes to have evidence of a co-operative approach,...

That is the way in which we should be moving if we are genuinely to bring about, within any decent span of time, employment equality, a different attitude towards the opportunities for women workers and a better recognition of their overall needs. I refer briefly, to the basic legislation, to the Anti-Discrimination (Pay) Act, 1974, and to the Employment Equality Act, 1977, which established the Employment Equality Agency. It is fair to say that, as legislation goes, it is good legislation. It compares favourably with legislation in other jurisdictions. Indeed, I understand we have been praised by the European Commission on the basis of our legislation, because of the definition of like work and because, in particular, of section 3 (c) of the Anti-Discrimination (Pay) Act, 1974.

It would be very wrong to bask in any warm glow at getting praise from the European Commission for the basic [502] legislation. That would be the height of hyprocrisy when we know that beneath that legislative veneer the situation is one of job segregation, of discrimination and of lack of opportunity for women workers. It is this reality which is going to be the next stage in the achievement of the objectives of the Employment Equality Agency.

I turn to the capacity and the various important functions of the agency. If one reads its responsibilities, its functions and its powers in the Employment Equality Act, the range compares very favourably with other statutory bodies which have far more manpower, capacity and resources at their disposal. I would divide the roles of the agency into, firstly a monitoring and enforcing role and, secondly, a persuading and educational role. I submit that both of these roles are vital and are of equal importance to achieving the end result of a genuine movement to a mature equality between the sexes in Ireland.

Taking firstly the monitoring and enforcing role, the agency have a responsibility to monitor the work situation of 30 per cent of the workforce, to monitor whether or not the Anti-Discrimination (Pay) Act, 1974, is achieving the legislative objective of providing a basis for equal pay, an entitlement to equal pay and a machinery and process by which this can be obtained, to monitor equality in employment to ensure that there is no discrimination in advertising, discrimination in career structures, in employment and so on. These are extremely important and far-reaching responsibilities and the agency has very far-reaching powers to go with those responsibilities. The question will have to be asked whether it has the capacity to carry out these functions with its present level of support from the Government.

The second role which the agency has is one of persuading and educating, and this obviously includes advertising and publicity in relation to both the existence of the agency itself and the legal entitlements, the right to equal pay, the right to equality of opportunity in jobs, training, educational possibilities and so on. This includes research which should be and [503] can be carried out by the agency; it includes the holding of conferences to allow specialists from this country and other countries to give detailed information on the situation, with the object of ensuring the integration of women into the economy in a significant way and not in the present way, where the main impact is by the few individual claims that come before the machinery and which do not have a major impact on industrial life in this country.

In that regard, I would like to make some comments on the adequacy of the machinery for processing equal pay claims under the Anti-Discrimination (Pay) Act, 1974. I would like to refer to the work carried out by the equality officers and to their standing under that Act. I understand that the two original equality officers are no longer with the Department. There has been a lack of concern to ensure proper training facilities, adequate support, adequate manpower, or women power, in order to process equal pay claims. The two original equality officers carried out a remarkable function considering that they were thrown in at the deep end without any training or preparation for the work that they were doing. It is ironic that you then had an equal pay situation among the equality officers themselves, when a male equality officer came in at a different level although he was carrying on like work. I would like to ask the Minister for some clarification about the present situation because it is not clear what the complement of the equality officers is now under the 1974 Act.

There are delays in the procedure which must be apparent in some instances, which are certainly very frustrating and which are not either in the letter or spirit of the Anti-Discrimination (Pay) Act. From my personal experience I am aware of examples of delays, for example, in the claim put forward by the POWU on behalf of the female telephonists. That claim had been a long time around before it went to the equality officer and it was several years before there was a result from the [504] Labour Court. It took three years to pursue that equal pay claim. For unions pursuing a claim on behalf of its members, and for the members of the union, this is extremely frustrating and disenchanting, in particular when you are talking about a Department of State. This was not a private capitalist employer refusing to accede to an equal pay claim: it was a Department reflecting, apparently, the lack of a real ideology of equality in that Department or perhaps within the State itself.

There is a claim from the post office clerks which has been waiting for some two years for resolution. That is far too long for something as important as establishing an entitlement for equal pay and having a decision on it. If I can refer to my own pension claim where I argued that the pension scheme for Members of the Oireachtas contravened the Anti-Discrimination (Pay) Act, 1974. As I recall, that claim was lodged with the equality officer in the spring of 1978, I finally got a recommendation in December 1978, which was contrary to the submissions that I had made, and the Labour Court decided the matter in June 1979 in my favour. It was a very net point. Why did it have to take so long despite strenuous efforts on my part to speed the process up?

All those three instances—the female telephonists, the post office clerks and the individual claim which I brought—were all against public bodies of this State, and the delays are completely unacceptable.

Secondly, I might refer briefly to the question of the adequacy of the Labour Court as the court which makes determinations in relation to equal pay claims. I do not want to dwell on this at any length. It is obviously very relevant to the monitoring of equal pay claims: it is necessary that we have this court reviewed, and it is the function of the Employment Equality Agency to review it.

The Minister must be aware that there has been a considerable amount of discontent at a number of different levels about the capacity of the Labour Court [505] to be a genuine adjudicating body on equal pay claims. The Labour Court was established as a conciliation body. That is the main thrust of its work, that is where its main concentration must be.

There is increasing frustration among women because there is not a single female member of the Labour Court, yet it is adjudicating on claims of potentially one-third of the labour force, trying to get equality in their pay and conditions. There is increasing support for the view that the Employment Appeal Tribunal or some similar body would be a more appropriate body for adjudicating on such claims.

I would like to refer to the great potential of the agency which stems from its wide and specific powers, and the importance of the functions which it can have, for example, its power to serve notice that it is going to carry out a formal investigation. In its report, the agency refers to the fact that it had carried out its first formal investigation during the first 15 months. This was the investigation of the situation in Aer Lingus. In reality, as I understand it, once the fact of the formal investigation was known, Aer Lingus ceased the practice which might have given rise to the investigation and made it clear that it would not carry on any policy of employing only one sex in a particular thing. Therefore, the fact of notice of the investigation achieved the objective.

Similarly, I understand there is at the moment an investigation into CIE, and we see the effect of the female bus conductors and the very substantial impact which notice of a formal investigation can have. It is desirable that the agency have full powers to institute formal investigations in other areas. One does not have to look too far to see potential areas. For example, the unequal retiring age of women is an obvious area that the agency perhaps might well be examining. One of the areas that would be very important in a broad range of employment would be the structure of career prospects for women in a number of these industries if there were the manpower [506] and resources in the agency that it clearly has the commitment and the interest to pursue these areas.

I would also like to talk about the potential of the agency in its persuasive and educational roles. It has a responsibility to carry out research, it has a responsibility for publicity and for information. It is amazing how effective quite a small publicity campaign can be. It is fair to say that the very limited advertising campaign carried out by the agency last year had a very substantial impact. There are other bodies, for example, the Health Education Bureau, who seem to have unlimited budgets for advertising and who seem to be able to put together extremely glossy and long-term publicity or advertising campaigns on radio, television and newspapers. I would like to see the Employment Equality Agency given more scope there because I believe it can make a very substantial impact. There is a need for that kind of publicity, that kind of education. Also there should be an encouragement to the agency to fulfil roles in a more directly educational sense. For example, one of the things that would have to happen if we are going to break the present job segregation pattern is to have career guidance in a much more structured and planned way opening up the possibilities for girls.

That means we are going to have training and education of career guidance officers. This should happen at every level and should be a role and function of the agency. They should be greatly supported in doing this. It can happen at conferences, meetings or seminars when these career guidance officers are brought together. It can happen in supplying briefs to them which encourage them to get girls to think of broader opportunities. If the agency is going to carry out its range of responsibilities and functions it requires legal expertise. They ought to have either a full time legal staff—which is justified from the kind of role it has to play and the importance of what it is doing—or at least be able to avail of its powers under the Employment Equality Act to contract out legal work. It would be [507] preferable if it could have its own legal staff. It would be very desirable that that kind of expertise be built up. The agency would be in a position to recruit very good young lawyers, or at least one lawyer working on the staff who would have the commitment and who would also be able to benefit from the experience of claims being pursued in other countries and of what has happened there.

I would like to emphasise the immense potential of the Employment Equality Agency, the striking work that has been done by a body which was new, which had to carve out its own territory, which I think has done it with remarkable skill and has maintained very good relations, for example, has maintained good relations with the trade unions, with employers, even with State agencies, trying to coax them into a more enlightened position in implementing equal pay claims. This is important. The Employment Equality Agency should not seek confrontation for the sake of it but should have the capacity and resources to achieve the objectives of the legislation. At present I believe it does not have that capacity.

In conclusion I should like to emphasise the point I made about the collective responsibility of the Government. There are two ways to ensure that something does not happen. One is not to pass the legislation, or not to bring in the scheme. For example, the long delay in bringing in a legal aid scheme. The other way is to bring in legislation which looks good on the Statute Book and then make sure that you underfund the body concerned, that you do not allow enough people to be employed, that you do not give the capacity to carry out the functions. There is a real danger that this is going to happen in relation to the Employment Equality Agency. It appears to me that the funding for the agency was less, in real terms, in 1979 than it was as evidenced in this first report for its first 15 months. It would be no real improvement, no marking of the significance of the role of the agency, to merely keep pace with inflation. What is needed is for [508] the Government to value the work of the agency, particularly value it because we have not had in Ireland a strong ideology of equality. We probably would not have brought in that legislation in that time scale if we had not been under the thumb of big brother, the European Economic Community, which was saying: “you cannot postpone equal pay; you cannot postpone equality of opportunity; you must implement these directives”. In particular in those circumstances we need an agency which has the encouragement, which is fully supported not only by a much greater grant out of Government resources but also supported in the way that the agency itself has called for, supported by the other bodies, such as the Industrial Development Authority, the National Manpower Service, AnCO and so on, to integrate women into the economy, ensuring that we genuinely have equal pay and equality of opportunity.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Is the motion seconded?

Mr. Kennedy: I second the motion. It must always be a matter of concern to everybody when a public body makes open confession of its failure to carry out its duties properly or fully. That concern must be all the greater when the particular public body is an exceedingly important one charged with the responsibility of protecting the rights, the wages and the conditions of employment of almost one-third of the country's entire workforce. As I see it, that is precisely the position of this agency.

We would all be appalled were we told that the Garda Síochána or the courts of justice could not prosecute or punish law breakers because of lack of administrative funds. We should be equally concerned about the non-implementation of any Bill for the same reason. The areas in which the agency feel they are constrained in operation—because of the inadequacy of their grant-in-aid—are set out in section 5, Chapter 1 of the Report on page 7. Broadly speaking they cover acquisition of adequate premises, research and unfilled staff [509] posts. I shall not elaborate on these areas, or add to them, although I think I could. It is not for me to suggest where the agency should extend their operations. That is for the members of the agency themselves. Their people have tremendous experience, ability and knowledge in this field, but whatever could be delayed further—bearing in mind that we are getting very close to the next budget—in respect of the acquisition of adequate premises and research facilities, the very least we would expect would be that the agency be enabled to employ adequate staff immediately by way of the introduction of a Supplementary Estimate.

In my capacity as a trade union official I have fairly constant dealings with the Minister for Labour and his Department. I am conscious of the fact that the Minister is most hardworking and progressive, and is backed by staff second to none in this or any other country. I know he is extremely anxious to push on with progressive working-class legislation of every description. But he, with his staff and his Department, are as much handicapped in this respect as are the agency. I know that he would like to see his Department getting sufficient funds to enable him to implement his own aspirations and plans. Therefore, my appeal really is to the Minister for Finance and the Government as a whole to get their priorities right.

By a unanimous decision of this House taken an hour or so ago we enabled the Institute for Industrial Research and Standards to put their financial affairs in order. We took steps to ensure that they will not find themselves in any financial difficulty in implementing their programme, or in carrying out their functions and duties. During the course of a speech in this respect the Minister reminded us that the institute is in receipt this year of a grant of more than £5.1 million. I do not begrudge the institute that sum of money. They are doing very important work but so too is the agency. We might well think that, in comparing a sum of £5.1 million for the institute with the [510] £96,000 in grant made to the agency for this year, we are dealing in chicken feed in so far as the agency is concerned, and, that is quite right.

I could make many suggestions as to the manner in which the agency should operate, into what areas they should wander. But—as I see it—that is not the purpose of this motion. The purpose of the motion is to ensure that the agency is enabled, fully and properly, to implement their statutory functions and duties by way of making available to them the necessary grant, certainly in respect of next year, and as far as I am concerned a supplementary grant, to ensure they can recruit staff of the proper calibre immediately.

Professor Hillery: In the course of this short contribution I propose to comment first on the link between equality in employment and job creation and secondly on the need for constant attention to the preparation of claims submitted to the Employment Equality Agency. Thirdly, I contend that legislation on its own is inadequate to achieve equality in employment and lastly, I would support the case made by Senator Robinson that the functions of the Labour Court in respect of the Anti-Discrimination (Pay) Act, 1974 and the Employment Equality Act, 1977 should be transferred to a larger Employment Appeals Tribunal.

The objective of the Employment Equality Agency is to encourage the elimination of discrimination and to promote equality between men and women in employment. It has, therefore, an important role in monitoring existing practices and particularly in serving as an agent of change. In its short life—and it is worth emphasising that it has not been long in existence—the agency has made considerable progress, due in large measure to a committed staff. Here I join Senator Robinson in paying tribute to them. In the historical context, there are many barriers to be overcome in advancing to a position where half the population, composed of women, can be employed first of all and then take up positions where their talents can be used to the full.

[511] On the question of the link between equality in employment and job creation, clearly equality in employment is a very desirable objective and aim. But jobs, however, have to be created irrespective of which sex secures them in the first instance, in order to reduce existing levels of unemployment and to provide new jobs for our young and constantly-growing population. In this respect the main thrust of the Government's economic policy has been to create more jobs. Very significant progress has been made in this regard. It is only, therefore, in the context of full employment that full equal opportunities will become a reality.

There is a need, as with any submission, be it the Labour Court or the Employment Equality Agency for constant attention to be paid to the preparation of claims. In this respect the agency are to be commended for their efforts in appraising people of their rights under the two Acts already mentioned. In addition, where disputes arise the agency staff assist people in preparing claims. This is time well spent and deserving of constant attention, as illustrated by the following quotation from the 1978 Annual Report of the Labour Court:

The onus of proving entitlement to equal pay falls on the employee(s) concerned. The parties might best serve their own interests if they were to take particular pains to present well documented cases to the Equality Officers. This would help to reduce the time taken to investigate the cases submitted.

In a number of cases, too, the actual claims for equal pay are still being addressed to the Labour Court instead of the employers in the first instance.

This legislation is concerned with rights and is important social legislation. But I contend that legislation alone is quite inadequate in achieving equality in employment. Legislation and the claims made there under will not adequately [512] change the picture, as can be seen from employment practices today. It will take time to change long-established practices and entrenched attitudes. I submit that women employees themselves, supported by trade union efforts on their behalf, perhaps offer the most promising opportunities for advancement of women's rights.

On the question of research—which Senator Robinson touched on—I welcome the idea put forward by the Department of Labour to the Employment Equality Agency that research should be undertaken on the extent to which curricular differences may be contributing to unequal opportunities for girls when they take up employment. This link between education and work is certainly deserving of investigation.

My final point relates to the role of the Labour Court in regard to this social legislation. The operation of the Anti-Discrimination (Pay) Act, 1974 and the Employment Equality Act, 1977 have added to the work of a very busy Labour Court. Furthermore, this is a new dimension to the court's main role of mediation, in that under these two Acts the court has a monitoring role in regard to workers' rights and also has the responsibility for hearing appeals thus making determinations which have legally binding effects. In addition to its main function under the Industrial Relations Acts of helping the parties to settle their disputes, the court is now virtually making determinations on points of law in accordance with what is stated in these two Acts rather than adopting the traditionally pragmatic approach of recommending settlement terms to the disputants. This additional complex work has implications for the character of the court and for the principle of voluntarism which has been fundamental to the court's make-up since its establishment. This point is clearly underlined by the following extract from the 1978 Annual Report of the Labour Court:

A feature of these appeals is the extent to which the Court finds itself involved with legal aspects of its actions [513] and its decisions, thus depriving it of the flexibility which it enjoys when dealing with cases referred to it under the Industrial Relations Acts. It also means that the cases take up more time and that the decisions take longer to reach.

I would support the view of Senator Robinson that the present role of the Labour Court in regard to social legislation should be transferred from the Labour Court, thus allowing the court to concentrate exclusively on its mediation role and to devote more time to that.

I wish to compliment the proposer and the seconder for putting down the motion thus allowing an opportunity to have it discussed in the House.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: As debate on the Adjournment Matter is due at 8 o'clock this debate is now adjourned. When is it proposed that the Seanad will sit again?

Mr. Brennan: I have not had an opportunity to have consultation on this.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Perhaps we could be told at 8.30.

Debate adjourned.