That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Employment Equality Acts 1998 and the Equal Status Acts 2000 by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of a person’s social and economic background; and to provide for related matters.
Since I have been spokesperson on justice and equality for the past 14 months we have had a lot of legislation and debates concerning justice but there has been very little debate relating to the equality part of the justice and equality brief. This legislation seeks to perfect that flaw. Politicians talk a lot about equality but if we are serious about achieving equality we need to introduce some statutory schemes in order to ensure it is obeyed. At present, equality in our legal system is reflected in the Employment Equality Acts and the Equal Status Acts, which were first introduced by Fianna Fáil in 1998 and 2000, respectively. The Employment Equality Acts prohibit discrimination in respect of employment and access to employment, while the Equal Status Acts provide a prohibition on discrimination in the provision of service. Both sets of legislation set out nine grounds upon which discrimination is prohibited. For example, one cannot discriminate against individuals on the basis of race, gender, religion, age or sexual orientation. To a large extent it is difficult to police this but the fact that it is contained within legislation is important as it sends out a message to employers and service providers that discrimination in this area is not permitted. It is effective in reducing discrimination and has been effective in the nine areas in which the legislation prohibits discrimination at the moment.
In recent times Deputy O'Loughlin and I, as well as other members of our party, have become aware from speaking to people at our clinics that there is another form of discrimination, which is probably more widespread but which is not prohibited in our legislation. This is the form of discrimination that arises for people who live in certain estates, mainly local authority estates, who say that when they apply for jobs they do not put down their address because the area in which they live is associated with deprivation, higher anti-social behaviour or some elements of criminality. We know that this is happening and it is shameful. It violates the principles of equality that people can discriminate against individuals because of where they come from in the city or the country. It has an impact on individuals and people tell me they give different addresses when submitting job applications if they are from certain estates which are frowned upon, to avoid the stigma associated with their address by certain employers. This does not just apply to employment contracts but is also relevant to the provision of services.
The Bill that Deputy O'Loughlin and I seek leave to introduce seeks to add one further ground of prohibited discrimination to the nine grounds already contained within the legislation. The new ground is referred to as the socio-economic ground.
It would define disadvantaged socio-economic status, in both the employment equality and equal status legislation, as meaning a socially identifiable status of social or economic disadvantage resulting from poverty, level or source of income, homelessness, place of residence or family background. A ground stating that one could not discriminate against individuals in respect of employment or the provision of services because of this disadvantaged socio-economic ground would then be added to each individual Act. This legislation will have a wide impact. It will be of benefit to individuals who sometimes feel that the law and the political system has left him or her behind. For that reason, I am commending it.