A majority of Europeans (52%) believe that the economic crisis is leading to greater racism and discrimination in the workplace. Despite this, the long-term trend in Europe – including declining fertility rates, increasing female participation and increasing immigration rates since at least the 1960s – means that shared institutions such as workplaces are likely to become even more diverse in future.
Everyday discrimination, whether at work, school or elsewhere, doesn’t necessarily have to involve an open and dramatic violation of a person’s human rights. It can also include subtle, low level harassment or unequal treatment based on ethnic origin, disability, age, gender, sexual orientation or other factors.
It could involve an enterprise laying off employees and choosing to first get rid of the youngest (or oldest) employees. Or, perhaps a company offers a different hourly wage for male or female employees. Maybe a person from an ethnic minority is told, when applying for a job, that a position has already been filled (even though this is not the case).
To illustrate some of the challenges and issues under discussion, we’ve put together the infographic below (click for a bigger version).
We spoke to Kari Käsper, one of the founders and the Executive Director of the Estonian Human Rights Centre, and asked him what he thought. In terms of ordinary, everyday discrimination – in the workplace, for example – do we already have in place the legislation we need? Would a new EU Directive be useful? Or is it more a question of enforcement? And, if so, what can be done to promote better enforcement?
Human rights have no meaning if they have no impact in the everyday lives of people. Sure, we do need better laws at the EU and national levels, including the long-awaited horizontal Anti-Discrimination Directive, but in our experience even the non-discrimination legislation that exists now is rarely used. The implementation of the equality directives has been really lacking, at least in Estonia. Our politicians were very open when they stated that they would only adopt this law to avoid an infringement proceeding, which means that there was absolutely no political will to ensure that it actually has any impact.
This is dangerous, because the credibility and legitimacy of the EU is lessened if its directives in this important area have no actual impact on the everyday lives of individuals. Better enforcement can happen only if the Member States take these matters seriously and right now they do not, as is evidenced by the extremely low investment in this area. Estonia’s equality body, for example, has been given almost no resources to fulfill the tasks envisaged in the Equal Treatment Act. So there needs to be more political prioritisation and investment in this area in order to achieve results.
Each European citizen can do their own part by standing up against discrimination, going to court if necessary, and by demanding from their government answers about why more has not been done. Through these kind of concrete acts, and not words, we build a common Europe.
Finally, we spoke to Claire Fernandez, Deputy Director of Policy at the European Network Against Racism (ENAR). We asked her what the picture looked like across the EU; how diverse are European workplaces, and what sort of challenges do people face from different ethnic and minority backgrounds?
We can’t really know how diverse workplaces are if we don’t have the data to measure that diversity… Unfortunately, data on ethnic backgrounds in the labour market is not being collected at the moment… What we can measure are the origin of people – their country of origin and the country of origin of their parents.
What the available data shows is that there are indeed challenges and discrimination both at the level of recruitment and in the workplace. Basically, it’s a system of structural discrimination is in place which means that if there are less ethnically diverse people entering the labour market via recruitment then there will also be less diversity in the workplace. And, on top of that, ethnic minorities and migrants will face discrimination throughout their career paths.
In the workplace, some of this discrimination manifests as a glass ceiling mechanism, which means that the higher you go up the career ladder the less diversity you will find. It can also manifest itself in harder working conditions, racial harassment, abusive dismissal, but also discrimination on the basis of things like wearing religious symbols.
So, the challenges are here, but there is also a problem in that it’s hard for people to complain about these issues in the workplace. People fear retaliation, they fear they will lose their jobs or they just don’t know where to go to complain. So, the European Network Against Racism has been working with companies, NGOs and decision-makers in order to develop solutions. We are working, for example, on certification with external evaluators that would look at companies and see how they perform on diversity issues.
We do believe that employers should have internal mechanisms where people can go and complain without losing their jobs, and that generally employers should make an effort in accomodating religious and cultural diversity. Ultimately, they will make their workforce perform better, because if you value diversity and make sure people feel comfortable in the workplace you are more likely to see an improvement in performance results.
Have YOU ever encountered discrimination at work or in school? Should European citizens do more to stand up to everyday discrimination? And do governments take these challenges seriously in all countries in Europe? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions!
IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Rasmus Andersson