NGO says tackling discrimination ahead of EU elections must be a 'priority'

Sarah Isal explains why there's not a great deal to celebrate this international day for the elimination of racial discrimination.

By Sarah Isal

21 Mar 2014

Today we are celebrating international day for the elimination of racial discrimination. Unfortunately, from an anti-discrimination and equality perspective, there is not much to celebrate.

It will not come as a surprise that for black people, Roma, Muslims and migrants from non-EU countries living in Europe, discrimination continues to be a major obstacle when looking for a job, and even once in employment. For women with a minority or migrant background, it's even worse. This is evident in the European network against racism's latest shadow report on racism and discrimination in employment in Europe.

The ongoing financial and economic crisis which Europe has been facing for the last six years, coupled with the lack of social investment, has not made the situation any better. It has worsened discrimination against minorities and migrants and increased the employment gap between the latter and the majority population.

Migrants and minorities already face discrimination when they're applying for jobs. For example, in the United Kingdom, people with foreign sounding names are a third less likely to be shortlisted for jobs than people with white British sounding names. But even once they are in a job, ethnic and religious minorities continue to face unequal treatment. Lower wages, glass ceilings, precarious and difficult working conditions, harassment and abusive dismissal are just some of the manifestations. In Hungary for instance, wages paid to Roma are lower than the Hungarian minimum wage.

These discriminatory practices occur despite the existence of EU legislation prohibiting discrimination in employment. It's time politicians take this issue seriously and show real political will to tackle discrimination in employment, especially in view of the upcoming European elections. Indeed, unemployment remains the main concern of Europeans and access to quality work will be a high priority among voters - including those with a minority or migrant background, who make up about 12 per cent of the European population.

Are there solutions? Yes, but they take some political courage as it is about splitting the cake differently to ensure everybody - blacks and whites alike - has access to the benefits of growth. European countries have never been so wealthy in their whole history. For now though, the cursor has been tilted towards massive accumulation of capital, not towards productive and sustainable investment in the economy. This would, however, improve living standards and conditions of all European citizens, including migrants and ethnic and religious minorities - by the very fact that realising equality in employment would become a business imperative. Estimates also forecast that addressing discrimination in employment could improve GDP growth.

A few concrete steps in the right direction would be to collect equality data to measure racial and religious discrimination in employment, as systematically as we do with gender and age. Without the numbers, how can policy makers monitor the effectiveness of anti-discrimination policies? States also need to establish standards on labour inspection, geared towards improving the detection of ethnic and religious discrimination in the workplace, and ensure that labour market regulations respect the "equal status and equal pay for equal work" principle and that all workers (nationals, EU migrants and non-EU migrants) enjoy equal treatment.

The European elections are just around the corner and we need candidates' commitment to a better and more inclusive Europe. Politicians can no longer turn a blind eye to the fact that allowing millions of people to be discriminated and excluded from jobs results in a huge waste of talents, skills and wealth, ultimately affecting the well-being of all people living in Europe.

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