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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 29 Nov 1984

Vol. 106 No. 4

Report of the Joint Committee on the Secondary Legislation of the EC: Motion (Resumed).

Debate resumed on the following motion:
That Seanad Éireann pursuant to the Order of the Seanad of 13th September 1984 takes note of the Report of the Joint Committee on the Secondary Legislation of the European Communities on Proposals relating to equality of Opportunity (including Parental and Family Leave) which was laid before the Seanad on 17th October 1984 and which contains a request for a debate thereon.
—(Senator Robinson).

Could I say that it is appropriate that Motion No. 5 dealing with the reports on proposals relating to equality of opportunity should be on the Order Paper at this time when we also have on the Order Paper a motion that Seanad Éireann takes note of the Joint Committee on Women's Rights Interim Report dealing with education.

As a member of that committee I have a particular interest in looking forward to the debate on the latter motion. There can be no doubt in anybody's mind about the extreme discrimination against women in every sphere. I spoke about this at greater length last time that we were dealing with the motion on EC developments. Some people may not realise that the rate of progress in rectifying this injustice is unacceptably slow. In spite of legislation but possibly because this discrimination has been so long and deeply rooted in our society, movement to redress the problem is proving unacceptably sluggish. Against that background reports such as this must receive an unqualified welcome.

We have a wealth of information and reports from the EC on women's rights. In the European File No. 484 for February 1984 it goes into this in great detail and points out that in the European Community 52 per cent of women aged between 14-59 have a job or are looking for work. The proportion is increasing under the double pressure of women's desire for independence and their need to boost the family income. Out of a total working population estimated at 118 million, women account for about 44 million. Of these 69 per cent work in services, 25 per cent in industry and 6 per cent in agriculture. Women are also to be found among Europe's unemployed. There are more women out of work than men in proportion to their share of the total workforce. Women make up 41 per cent of Europe's jobless. They are often the victims of the fact that their training is no longer suited to present-day economic needs. The recession has also made women's jobs more vulnerable. Unemployment has indirectly had a negative effect on the rights of women. At the same time women occupy 90 per cent of Europe's part-time jobs. Such jobs frequently carry the same benefits as fulltime work. They rarely lead to promotion or a more responsible job.

The unemployment of women raises other problems which cannot be illustrated in figures. Equality in education and training, equal pay and equal social security rights are objectives set by society, but in many cases there is still a wide gulf between principle and practice. We have a wealth of information on this problem in the area of discrimination against women. I would like to quote three very short paragraphs from "The Situation of Women in Europe" which was published in May of this year. I will quote from the foreword by Piet Danker. It states:

It is no coincidence that the term "equal treatment" should recur so frequently; although the legal texts establish it as a general principle, in reality there is discrimination between men and women, and this cannot be tolerated by anyone, let alone a democratic institution such as Parliament. Women have an inviolable right to play a full part in the life of society in all its forms, and can no longer be denied the means of doing so. Although some progress has been made, women, when they are not trapped in their role as mothers find it difficult to rise to positions of responsibility in working life. The few exceptions do not invalidate this rule, which is borne out by experience. We can no longer permit differences in the treatment of working women and men, and it is the responsibility of the Community to ensure that the laws adopted on the basis of Community directives are observed. Yet, at the same time, it must also ensure that, once the legal provisions have entered into force, indirect and insidious forms of discrimination do not deprive them of all effect.

Action at the sources is needed to attempt to free our society from this regrettable discrimination: education and vocational training have a vital role to play here, while the advent of new technologies could also open up new opportunities. A great effort should be made to capitalise on them.

Parliament has not confined its activities to making requests, it has also been instrumental in securing the necessary budgetary funds. It will need to continue along this road.

The report points out that the female unemployment rate in Ireland, unlike most of the other member states of the European Communities, is lower than for males. Unfortunately the trends in registered unemployment here shows that female unemployment is rising, although the Industrial Development Authority, AnCO, the Youth Employment Agency and the National Manpower Service, according to the report, play an active part in seeking fair and just female participation in the employment area. I believe there is a greater injustice than simple arithmetical equity in numbers. The type of work is most important. The joint report on Women's Rights at paragraph 10.2 stated:

Since the early years of the present century the number of women teachers in primary schools has increased steadily with the result that today there are more women than men working in this area, where once men were numerically stronger. The situation is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future because of the imbalance at entry to the Colleges of Education, where females now constitute over 70 per cent of the student population. However, the predominance of women teachers, 15,500 (75 per cent) to 5,100 (25 per cent) is not reflected in the figures for posts of responsibility, with 53 per cent of principalships being held by men and 47 per cent by women. A system in which 25 per cent of the work force holds more than half of the principalships illustrates the extent to which inequality between the sexes is entrenched in the teaching profession. While the representation of women in the lesser posts of responsibility, i.e. Vice-Principal, Grade A and Grade B posts is more equitable, even in these grades, male teachers, having regard to their overall numbers, hold a disproportionate number of the posts, i.e. 18 per cent, 33 per cent and 27 per cent respectively.

I suspect that this denial of opportunity applies to every sphere of activity. There is no doubt that the Joint Committee on the Secondary Legislation of the European Communities is firmly committed to removal of all obstacles which hinder the principles of equal pay for work of equal value and equal opportunities in all areas for men and women.

The first thing I would like to do is to pay tribute to and compliment Senator Robinson for the vast quantity of work and the vast quantity of thought that has gone into the compilation of this very substantial and very worthwhile report and documents. As regards the Council resolution on action to combat unemployment among women, one must agree with the approach recommended, that is of affording women access to the whole of the labour market and the taking of specific measures linked to the inherent characteristics of the unemployment of women. Statistics have already been referred to recently on the other side of the House by Senator Fitzsimons. It is true that although the female unemployment rate in Ireland is lower than that of males and runs counter to the general pattern within the EC, the disturbing feature is that the situation is getting worse and that the pattern is changing. The two years 1982 to 1984 showed female unemployment increasing by 54 per cent as against 40.9 per cent for men. The female share of unemployment total also increased.

The report draws attention to the substantial shift of female employment away from agriculture. This has been, by various factors, considerably accelerated. Here I would like to take issue with two relatively recent decisions. One is the cutting out altogether of the farm home advisory service; the other is the closing of the rural home economic colleges, one of which is in my own county, County Mayo. I am sorry that the Department of Education and ACOT and the Minister have seen fit to go along with this proposal. It is a retrograde step. The colleges particularly did invaluable work in training housewives for life on the land in rural Ireland. I have grave reservations about the decision. I know that one of the reasons given for the decision was that the curriculum was alleged to have a too-high home economics content. I personally do not think that the curriculum content as regards home economics was too great. Even if it were I think every possible opportunity should have been availed of to try to modify or to amend or to readjust or to change the curriculum rather than close the colleges.

At the time the decision was taken we were given assurances that the colleges would be replaced by something substantial and something worthwhile and something that was alleged to be more meaningful. We are still awaiting for the emergence of this replacement facility. Until such time as there is a replacement facility there remains a void or a vacuum or certainly a gaping hole to be filled in relation to education for women in rural Ireland, particularly taking into account their desire to go back on the land or to be a partner in a farming enterprise. Furthermore, I believe that in relation to the previous point that I made — that is the phasing out of the farm home advisory service — another look should be had at this area.

The report highlights a number of very stark statistics that have to be taken into consideration. For example, the school-leavers survey of May 1983 regarding the 1981-1982 school-leavers showed that the highest proportion of young women were working in the service and clerical occupations and by contrast that most young men were working in the skilled and semiskilled or manual occupations. In 1981, the service sector accounted for 75 per cent of all female employment, compared with 63 per cent in 1961. Again, in 1981, 97,200 females were employed as clerical workers in comparison with 35,900 males. Forty-one thousand four hundred males were employed in administrative and management occupations by comparison, again, with 6,400 females. We can see very clearly there a very definite pattern in relation to skills or particular areas of occupation.

Because of the preponderance of women in the clerical and service areas new office technology and automation offer a considerable threat to the position of women. It is from such a background as this that the report analyses the roles of various agencies, what they have achieved so far, what their aims and their targets are and what their training programmes are likely to be for the future. For example, AnCO's positive training programme and its return to work programme has been analysed and scrutinised very thoroughly and the deficiencies in relation to those particular agencies have been highlighted. It is noted, for example, that girls currently outnumber boys on the youth training and work experience programme. Again, there is such a high secretarial content in such programmes that this statistic is quite credible and quite believable.

The Minister for Labour has charged the Youth Employment Agency with overall responsibility for ensuring that youth programmes provide adequate opportunities for young people of both sexes. Unfortunately, however, the vast majority of youth employment schemes, which do excellent work, apart altogether from the facilities they provide for people in getting them into a pattern of work, of helping them to co-operate and team up projects with colleagues and in teaching them skills — and in my county alone there is something like £300,000 of projects ongoing — are of a manual nature and thereby girls are by and large automatically precluded from them although they have the option of participating should they so desire.

One of the fears I have about the special employment programme whereby 10,000 people who are on unemployment assistance can now be employed for two-and-a-half days per week for a wage of £70 without prejudice to any other earnings they may accrue for the other five days is that these jobs will be largely male-orientated or will have a large manual content so that when the figures emerge at the end of the year the vast bulk of the 10,000 people who will be taken off the dole queue and gainfully employed in the scheme, will be male.

I welcome the conclusion of the Joint Committee that equal opportunities should be vigorously promoted particularly in the public sector as well as the private sector. We should look to the public sector to provide the headlines and the guidelines in this respect. Particularly I welcome the consideration by the Minister for Labour that a general policy framework be adopted for the public sector organisations. The lead will have to come within the Civil Service, within the semi-State bodies, within the health boards. The provision of basic prerequisites such as the provision of child care facilities is an essential part of such a framework. Job-sharing is another concept to which we have paid lip service for a number of years, but by and large there is very, very little evidence of it on the ground.

Women's educational prospects are largely conditioned by their educational preparation. Here we look forward with some considerable optimism and with a degree of anticipation to the emergence of the findings of the Curriculum and Examinations Board. Educational conditioning has by and large relegated women psychologically to the role of being an employee or to being seen both by herself psychologically and by outside agencies as an appendage of her husband.

This in particular emerges in relation to another area of discrimination against women, and that is the difficulty for females in getting financial accommodation. Generally, irrespective of the amount of security they have per se or in partnership with their husbands or spouses, the husbands are still looked upon by the financial institutions as being better risk ventures than the wives.

The report mentioned on page 23 that the reduction of working time for everyone could be a factor in remedying or certainly reducing unemployment. A factor that I referred to previously in my contribution on the national plan, Building on Reality— I expressed disappointment on that occasion that this was not even referred to in this plan — is early retirement. If this country is providing a stable livelihood or a living for people from the ages on average between 20 and 60 years of age — I am not saying it owes very little to these people — I believe these people themselves would be more than prepared to enjoy well-earned superannuation and retirement and that they could gainfully be given the money that is now being given to the 25-year-olds as dole, by way of retirement or pension benefit, and thereby create something in the region of 10,000 jobs in the public sector. It is something that I will be pressing for. It certainly will be in line with the EC thinking in general, and it is one of the allegations that has been made in this House today in relation to the insolvency figures. By and large, we tend to be behind the rest of Europe: we tend to wait until such time as the directives are upon us and act in response to such directives. It is something which is well worth-while pursuing from an equity viewpoint as regards creating jobs for young people and also from the point of equity and fair play to the people that are at the top end of the salary scale, the people who are 60-plus years of age.

It is unfortunate that the industries which are most vulnerable such as the textile industry, clothing industry, leather industry, the ones that have gone to the wall most readily, are the ones that have the highest component or the highest element of female employment. I welcome the report and the recommendations within it, and I sincerely hope that the next time we sit down to monitor the report and discuss it progress will be reported under the various headings.

Question put and agreed to.