In a wide-ranging submission to the Department of Children and Equality, IHREC says legal aid should be available to people taking equality cases at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), domestic workers must be protected from discrimination and the medicalised definition of disability in equality law does not comply with international human rights obligations.
In June last year Minister for Equality Roderic O’Gorman announced a review of equality legislation – the Equal Status Acts and the Employment Equality Acts (1998 to 2020).
Ihrec says these Acts need updating as “Ireland is a more diverse multi-ethnic and multinational society” than when they were introduced.
The “family status” ground – one of nine on which a person may argue they face discrimination – “does not go far enough to capture and protect the full range of caring responsibilities… in modern Irish society”, says Ihrec. Women are far more likely to face discrimination as a result of care responsibilities than men, says IHREC, and the family status ground “should be amended to capture and protect the full range of caring responsibilities. ... Many people may now care for older relatives or individuals who do not live under the same roof as them… Care work often must be juggled with employment responsibilities. Women are overrepresented among employees availing of reduced hours... deficiencies in the protection offered by the Acts have a particular impact on women and serve to perpetuate gender inequality in the labour market,” it notes.
The areas of “gender, gender identity and gender expression are evolving”, says the commission.
While still “seeking to identify the best approach to take to the reform of the gender ground in equality legislation”, it argues the Acts should be amended “to explicitly prohibit discrimination against transgender, non-binary and intersex people”.
On disability the commission notes the approach in legislation is “medical” and “fails to recognise the existence of [social] barriers that hinder the full participation of disabled people in society on an equal basis with others”.
This is out of step with the UN Convention of the Rights of People with Disabilities, ratified by Ireland in March 2018.
The definition must “be brought into compliance with the human rights model enshrined in the UNCRPD, based on close consultations with, and the active involvement of, disabled people and their representative organisations”.
Particularly critical of the exclusion of domestic workers from the protections of employment equality legislation, the commission says this “has a disproportionate effect on women, particularly migrant women who make up the majority of domestic workers”.
It calls for regulation of non-disclosure, or confidentiality agreements in WRC settlements, saying some complainants may be unaware that they are not obliged to agree to them. It notes the view of some Irish solicitors that these are used to “cover up” abuse.