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19 March 1998 Edition

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Exposed: Discrimination in Belfast Council

Religious and gender inequality continues

In a damning new report, Belfast Sinn Féin Councillor Tom Hartley shows that Catholics and women continue to be under-represented in the Belfast City Council workforce. This week, in the first of his two-part report, he reveals the extent of anti-Catholic discrimination.

On 26 June 1992 Belfast City Council (BCC) signed a voluntary undertaking with the Fair Employment Commission (FEC), a core part of which stated that the Council would ``revise its Equal Opportunity Policy to include in addition to its commitment to the prevention of direct and indirect discrimination clear statements of commitment to:

ensuring fair participation of both communites in its workforce, and
the promotion of all necessary affirmative action including goals and timetables.''
Six years later Catholics and women are still seriously under-represented. Furthermore, BCC has not implemented goals and timetables which could lead to an equal representation of Catholics and women.


Religious composition of BCC workforce in January 1998

Catholics    834    33.45
Protestants    1519    60.93
ND    140    5.61
Total    2493    100
Since 1993, the religious composition of the workforce changed in the following way:


Religious composition 1993-98

Catholic    Protestant    ND    Total
1 Jan 93    750 (30%)    1619 (65%)    110 (4%)    2479
1 Jan 94    747 (31%)    1506 (64%)    114 (5%)    2367
1 Jan 95    753 (33%)    1423 (62%)    115 (5%)    2291
31 Dec 95    771 (32%)    1479 (62%)    126 (5%)    2376
1 Jan 96    682 (32%)    1349 (63%)    105 (5%)    2136
1 Jan 97    774 (33%)    1456 (62%)    122 (5%)    2352
Jan 98    834 (33%)    1519 (61%)    140 (6%)    2493
(Percentages rounded to nearest whole figure) The table shows that the Catholic percentage of the workforce has not risen substantially since 1993. It increased in the period 1993-1995, decresed since December 1995 and slightly increased since 1997.


Religious composition by departments in January 1998

Department    Catholic (%)    Protestant (%)    ND (%)
Chief Executive    42.6    50.0    7.4
Legal services    60.0    33.3    6.7
Corporate services    29.5    64.8    5.7
H&E services    32.1    64.2    3.7
Client services    32.8    59.3    7.9
Contract services    33.9    61.1    5.0


No of employees by department January 1998

Chief Executives    68
Legal Services    15
Corporate Services    261
H & E Services    215
Client Services    494
Contract Services    1440
Grand total    2493
Catholics are relatively well represented in small departments and under-represented in big departments. Given that these bigger departments provide greater employment opportunities, Catholic under-representation means a loss of employment prospects.


Religious composition by departments in September 1994 and December 1995 in %.

(Figures for the Catholic and Protestant workforces with the non-determined workforce excluded are shown in brackets.)
Dept.    Cath.1994    Cath.1995    Prot.1994    Prot.1995    ND.1994    ND.1995
Chief exec.    39.1    40.4 (45.1)    52.2    49.1 (54.9)    8.7    10.5
Legal sevices    50.0    50.0 (53.8)    37.5    42.9 (46.2)    12.5    7.1
Corporate    32.0    31.0 (32.5)    63.9    64.0 (67.5)    4.1    5.0
H&E    33.1    31.7 (32.8)    63.1    65.2 (67.2)    3.8    3.1
Client.    32.1    31.7 (34.7)    60.6    59.8 (65.3)    7.3    8.5
Contract    32.1    32.5 (34.1)    63.8    62.8 (65.9)    4.2    4.7
A comparison of tables 4 and 5 shows that the percentage of Catholic employees declined in Corporate Services and H & E, increased in Legal Services and rose marginally in Client and Corporate Services. However, it remains on an overall low level.

The protestant workforce in the big departments has not changed substantially.

The non-determined workforce increased slightly. Excluding the non-determined employees increases the Protestant workforce relative to the Catholic workforce. BCC must assess if the figures given for NDs is a reflection within the workplace corporate culture of a negative attitude towards fair employment monitoring.


Religious representation by grades in January 1998 (%)

Grade Catholics    Protestant    ND
Craft    16.0    84.0    -
Manual    34.7    59.9    5.4
Basic    37.7    60.7    1.6
Junior    31.2    59.3    9.5
Middle    33.3    59.2    7.5
Senior    32.8    61.7    5.5
Director    24.0    72.0    4.0
Catholics are grossly under-represented in the crafts (16%) and at Director level (24%). Only in the manual and basic grades are Catholics on or slightly above their BCC average. In none of the grades do Catholics reach the required 40% representation.

If we look at representation by grade and department, the true nature of Catholic under-representation becomes even clearer:

Only 6 out of 25 Directors are Catholics.
Corporate services have 5 Protestant directors (100%) but no Catholic director. This is particularly worrying as this department is responsible for the Human Resources Section.
Contract services have 5 Protestant directors (83.3%) but only one Catholic director (16.7%)
H&E services has 3 Protestant directors (75%) but only one Catholic director.
Client services has 3 Protestant directors (75%) but only one Catholic director.
BCC's top management is led by the Chief Executive and 5 corporate directors. BCC does not provide separate figures for the religious composition of its chief officers.
On senior grade there is a low representation on contract services (20.7%), client services (24.3%) and H&E (29.8%).
On middle grade, the representation is low in client services (22.7%) and H&E (28.6%).
On junior grade, they are under-represented in contract services (29.8%) and legal services (25%)
On basic grade, there is a low representation in chief executive (23.5%).
In client services and contract services, catholics are grossly under-represented in the crafts. In contract services, they represent only 16.7% of the craft workforce, in client services only 11.1%
On manual grade, they are grossly under-represented in corporate services (12.2%) and H&E (18.2%).
I only highlighted cases where the Catholic share of the workforce is below 30%. In the majority of other grades the Catholic representation is well below the required 40%.

Apart from grades, BCC uses a second classification for its workforce: the 9 Standard Occupational Classification (SOC). They are the basis for the monitoring reports to the FEC.


Catholic representation by SOC in January 1998 and January 1993

SOCs                    1998    1993
Managers/Administrators    32.6    28.1
Professional    39.4    42.4
Ass. Profess. Techn.    35.5    35.3
Clerical/Sectarial    38.0    36.4
Craft/Skilled/Manual    21.1    19.8
Pers. Protective    39.3    36.6
Sales    22.3    27.3
Plant Machine    37.0    30.1
Other    33.0    30.7
Apart from grades, BCC uses a second classification for its workforce: the 9 Standard Occupational Classifications (SOC). They are the basis for the monitoring reports to the Fair Employment Commission.

A comparison between Table 6 (grades) and Table 7 (SOC) shows that the use of SOC paints a more positive picture for Catholic representation. In the crafts it increases from 16% (grade system) to 21% (SOC). The new classification includes craft, skilled and manual labour.

The low Catholic representation at Director level increases from 24% (grade system) to 32.6% (SOC). It now includes managers and administrators.

The use of two different classifications makes a comparison difficult ‹ BCC does not explain which grades coincide with which SOC. SOCs disguise the degree of Catholic under-representation within the hierarchy of employment.


There is an under-representation of Catholics in the total workforce.
There is an under-representation of Catholics on all grades.
There is a gross under-representation of Catholics in the crafts (16%) and at director level (24%).
There are departments without any or just one Catholic director (Corporate and Contract Services.)
On many grades the Catholic percentage is below 30%.
The use of two different types of classifications does not allow for a comparison.
The use of SOCs disguises the degree of Catholic under-representation.
There is an endemic level of mistakes in the compilation of reports.
There has been no substantial increase in the representation of the Catholic workforce.

Religious composition with/without non-determined workforce, Jan 1998

Catholic    Protestant    ND
without ND    34.7%    65.3%
with ND     33.45%    60.93%    5.61%

Excluding the non-determined employees (those who state no religious affiliation) marginally increases the Catholic workforce figure, while substantially increasing the Protestant workforce figure. This pattern is reflected wherever the non-determined workforce is included.

The figures suggest that the majority of the non-determined workforce is from the Protestant community. This further increases the Protestant share of the workforce.

To determine a target for the size of its Catholic workforce BCC sets a band stretching from 30-45% of the total workforce. The 30% reflects the percentage of Catholics in the Belfast travel-to-work area, the 45% reflects the percentage of Catholics in the BCC area. According to BCC, the Roman Catholic proportion (ie 34.7%) is broadly in line with what would be expected. From this figure it is clear that BCC locates its Catholic workforce at the lower end of the 30-45% band.

BCC serves the people living in the BCC area. It must therefore reflect the religious composition of its area. The percentage of Catholics in the Belfast travel-to-work area is an inappropriate basis for the calculation of the Catholic workforce. Furthermore, BCC recruits not just from the Belfast travel-to-work area but from all over the Six Counties. The Catholic representation of the BCC workforce must increase to at least 40%. BCC should also provide figures which take account of the realistic travel-to-work area for lower paid workers.

BCC uses two sets of classifications to determine the grade of its workforce. It uses its own classification, based on 7 grades, as well as one used by the FEC, based on 9 standard occupational classifications. BCC needs to develop categories of comparability which make interpretation of its workforce figures easily understood. Furthermore, the SOC combine different sets of the BCC grades and disguise the low percentage of Catholics and women in leading positions.

While compiling this report, a number of problems occurred:

Discrepancies in the figures. For example, there is a discrepancy in the workforce figures given for 31 December 1995 and 1 January 1996. These are not explained in the reports and BCC needs to account for these discrepancies.

Mistakes in tables and reports. in the course of my research I came across a large number of mistakes in tables and reports. Since mistakes were endemic I was forced to check all the figures. In any future reports BCC has to display a greater thoroughness in the compilation of its figures. It also needs to indicate if the FEC and Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) are aware of these mistakes. Presently there is no way of knowing this.
Calculation of percentages from absolute figures. I worked on the assumption that any percentage given for a part of the workforce has to be calculated on the basis of the total workforce. BCC worked on the same assumption in its 1994 report but changed it thereafter without either indication or explanation. Since 1994, BCC calculates the share of its Catholic and Protestant workforce by excluding the workforce without religious determination. To give an example: according to BCC practice, in January 1998 34.7% of the workforce are Catholic and 65.3% are Protestant. If the non-determined workforce is included (5.61%), the Catholic workforce decreases to 60.93%.

Next week:

In Part Two of his report, Tom Hartley highlights the under-representation of women in the Belfast City Council workforce and makes recommendations for bringing greater equality to the workforce.


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