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Swedish employers and trade unions most aware of work place racism

Swedish employers and trade unions most aware of work place racism

| Text and photo: Björn Lindahl

Awareness of racism in the workplace is growing yet still very low in many EU countries. Swedish employers and trade unions have the highest awareness, while those in Estonia have the lowest, according to a European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) report.

John Wrench"In the 1990's the topic of workplace racism wasn't on the agenda. Nearly everywhere the levels of processed complaints in the judicial system were very low," says John Wrench, who until this year was Senior Scientific Advisor at the FRA.

He addressed the issue during the Employment Week conference in Brussels on 24 November and gave some of the results from two recent Agency studies:

  • The first EU-wide survey of how immigrant and ethnic minority groups experience discrimination, the so called EU-MIDIS-report, with 23,500 respondents from immigrants and minority groups from all 27 member countries.
  • A study of the views of more than 300 trade unions and employers in the EU of the impact of the Racial Equality Directive which was introduced in the year 2000. The directive prohibits discrimination in the areas of employment, education, healthcare and housing.

The Directive required the creation of specialised Equality Bodies promoting equal treatment in each country. The Equality Bodies have an important function in providing assistance to victims of discrimination to make the legal system more accessible to them. The victims only need to present facts 'from which it may be presumed that discrimination has occurred'. The burden of proof then shifts to the defendant: the court will assume that the principle of equal treatment has been breached, unless the defendant can prove otherwise.

"Not a problem"

“Before the Racial Equality Directive the attitude of the employers and trade unions in most EU member states was that 'this is not a problem in my country'. That attitude has changed, but some employer organisations still deny that ethnic discrimination exists in their countries, particularly in relation to their Roma population. Instead they identify their poor labour market position as a consequence of individual characteristics," says John Wrench.

Many studies have disclosed work place racism in all countries however. Thousands of students have been followed for several years in some countries. Those with foreign names on average have worse careers than those with names that are common within the majority group. Sometimes the discrimination is open like when a Dutch supermarket chain instructed branches not to take on applicants of Moroccan descent. Sometimes the discrimination is more subtle, like when a person with an ethnic sounding name has to apply five times before securing a job interview compared to a person from the majority group.

Roma most discriminated

In the EU-MIDIS-report almost half of the Roma respondents, 47 percent, said they had been discriminated against at least once in the last 12 months regarding employment, housing or access to other services. Other groups who had experienced discrimination were Sub-Saharan African respondents (41 percent), Central or Easter-Europeans (23 percent), Turkish (23 percent) and those of Russian decent (14 percent).

When the 23,500 immigrants and ethnic minority groups where asked if there is a law that forbids discrimination against people with an ethnic minority background when applying for a job, as many as 61 percent said "no" or "don’t know". The number was similar for other kinds of discrimination.

"Before you can counter the discrimination you have to be aware of the law as well as where to go," says John Wrench.

80 percent without a clue

Yet the survey results show the overwhelming majority of the respondents, 80 percent, could not think of a single organisation - be this government-based, an independent institution or authority (such as an Equality Body) or an NGO – offering support to people who have suffered discrimination.

91 percent of Romanians in Spain did not know that there is a law against discrimination when applying for a job. This compares to 31 percent of North Africans in France who did not know about the law.

In the Nordic countries 55 percent of Somali immigrants knew about the Swedish Ombudsman against Ethnic Discrimination. 48 percent of Somalis in Denmark had heard of the Danish Institute for Human Rights while the Ombudsman for Minorities in Finland was only known to 30 percent of Somalis there.

Few report acts of discrimination

"82 percent of those who had experienced discrimination did not report it. The most common reason was that they thought that nothing would happen anyway," says John Wrench.

When researchers in the 27 EU countries where asked to estimate the extent of the employer and the trade union respondents' knowledge of the Racial Equality Directive and the extent to which their organisation had responded to the new laws, there was one striking result:

The 15 EU member states, before the 2004 and 2007 enlargements, were on the top of the awareness list, while the 12 new members where in the bottom of the list.

Immigration in Swedish campaign

In the last Swedish election in September 2010 immigration was a big issue. "Modernise Sweden" was the message from the Green Party, written with letters and signs from many languages (picture above).

How the ranking was made

The researchers valued the response to six questions posed to the employers and trade unions in the 27 EU member states.

The answers were scored on a scale ranging from one (limited awareness or response) to three (very extensive awareness and response).

The questions were:

(1) Are they (employers or unions) aware of the Racial Equality Directive?

(2) Are they aware of national anti-racial discrimination legislation resulting from transposition of the directive?

(3) Are they aware of their national Equality Body (if one exists)?

(4) Have they adapted their policies to include anti-racial discrimination measures as a result of the directive?

(5) Have they adapted their practices to include anti-racial discrimination measures as a result of the directive?

(6) Are they strongly committed to anti-racial discrimination?

The results where:

6.0   Sweden

5.7   Ireland  

5.5   Finland     

5.2   UK

5.1   Germany

5.0   Denmark

5.0   Belgium      

4.7   Netherlands  

4.6   Austria 

4.5   Portugal

4.5   Spain

4.5   France 

4.2   Italy 

4.0   Greece

3.8   Luxembourg

3.7   Cyprus

3.6   Slovenia

3.5   Slovakia

3.4   Malta  

3.3   Romania

3.3   Poland 

3.3   Lithuania

3.3   Hungary

3.2   Czech Republic 

3.2   Bulgaria

3.0   Latvia

2.8   Estonia 


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