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8 March 2001 Edition

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Employment discrimination persists

Fresh figures highlighting unemployment disparities between Catholics and Protestants in the Six Counties have rung alarm bells.

According to the latest Labour Force Survey, the unemployment rate for Catholics for 1999-2000 was substantially higher than the same for Protestants. The survey, published by the British Government's Statistics and Research Agency, shows that there is still a huge equality gap and that institutionalised sectarianism is as prevalent as ever.

Of those in employment for the surveyed year, Catholics made up 41 per cent, while Protestants made up a record 59 per cent. Catholics form 56 per cent of the unemployed population, compared with a 44 per cent figure for Protestants. The unemployment rate for Catholics was 9 per cent, almost twice the figure for Protestants.

A breakdown of the figures shows that the difference was most marked for men. Ten per cent of Catholic men were jobless compared with six per cent for Protestants. But the gap for Catholic women is also worrying. Seven per cent of Catholic women were unemployed, compared to four per cent of Protestants.

Most worrying of all are the figures on long-term unemployment. More Catholics have been out of work for one year or more, 55 per cent, to Protestants' 45 per cent.

The report also found that Catholic representation was highest in small-sized workplaces and lowest in large workplaces, clearly pointing to the fact that it is the big industries and companies where discrimination is most rife.

The new figures constitute a great challenge in the context of the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. They are a graphic reminder of the discriminatory practises in place across the Six Counties and urban areas in particular.

There are commitments in both the Good Friday Agreement and Programme for Government to eradicate such inequality. We now need to see concerted action so that this legacy of discrimination can become a thing of the past. Attempts to claim that the differential is unconnected to discriminatory practise and policy need to be challenged by all those responsible for the implementation of the Agreement. Rhetoric and words count for nothing unless we see resources specifically targeted against the sectarian inequality in workplaces.

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