Workplace discrimination still rampant and taking on new forms UN says

10 May 2007Although progress has been made at combating discrimination in the workplace, rising gender disparities in income and other forms of discrimination – including age, sexual orientation and HIV/AIDS status – are cause for growing concern, the United Nations Labour Organization (ILO) said in a new report released today. Although progress has been made at combating discrimination in the workplace, rising gender disparities in income and other forms of discrimination – including age, sexual orientation and HIV/AIDS status – are cause for growing concern, the United Nations Labour Organization (ILO) said in a new report released today. “The global picture of the struggle to overcome discrimination shows a mixture of advances and failures,” said the study, entitled “Equality at work: Tackling the challenges,” which finds that people are not only being discriminated against based on their sex, race or religion, but also on newer criteria such as age, sexual orientation, HIV/AIDS status and disability. “These barriers to equality can prevent societies from realizing the full potential of today’s globalized economy,” it stated. The report said that the ILO’s Member States have made great progress in their efforts to curtail discrimination in the workplace. “The condemnation of discrimination in employment and occupation is today almost universal,” it noted, citing that improvements have been made since its first edition was issued four years ago. Since then, most of the ILO’s 180 Member States have ratified its two main conventions on discrimination. However, the need to stamp out such discrimination has become far more urgent “in the face of a world that appears increasingly unequal, insecure and unsafe,” the study observed. Inequalities in income, assets and opportunities “dilute the effectiveness of any action aimed at combating discrimination.” The ILO warned that “this may lead to political instability and social upheaval, which upset investment and economic growth.” One of the study’s major themes is the perpetuation of gender gaps in employment and pay as well as the need for policies that take work and family responsibilities into account to address this issue. In the European Union (EU), for example, the difference in average gross hourly earnings between men and women has remained high at 15 per cent. The ILO cites the availability of good-quality jobs for women in legislative, senior or managerial positions as a key indicator in women’s improvement, with higher rates of participation signifying a drop in discriminatory barriers. Women continue to represent a distinct minority in these positions worldwide, with only 28.3 per cent of all women holding such positions. Progress in this area is uneven across regions, with North America at 41.2 per cent, Latin America and the Caribbean at 35 per cent and the EU at 30.6 per cent. Although the number of women with such professions has almost doubled in the past nine years in South Asia, the women of the region have the lowest share of the positions at only 8.6 per cent. Despite the push for greater global commitment to non-discrimination and equality and such landmark initiatives as the “ILO Code of Practice on HIV/AIDS in the world of work” which have revolutionized responses to AIDS in the workplace, the report states that “many shortcomings persist.” Enforcement remains weak and oftentimes offices created expressly to tackle discrimination are understaffed or underfunded. Additionally, a growing informal economy allows for such anti-discrimination laws to be bypassed. The report also asserts that the likelihood of a person with a disability finding a job decreases as the level of disability increases. With almost half a billion people with disabilities being of working age, there is mounting concern regarding discrimination against these people. The study noted that in Europe, a person between the ages of 16 and 64 has a 66 per cent likelihood finding employment, but this figure dips to 47 per cent for a moderately disabled person and drops even further to 25 per cent for a severely disabled person. Also highlighted in the report was the penalization of people with a genetic predisposition to developing certain diseases or those who have lifestyles considered unhealthy.