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Equality at work: The continuing challenge

Launching its Global Report on Equality at Work 2011, the International Labour Office (ILO) warns that in spite of continuous positive advances in anti-discrimination legislation, the global economic and social crisis has led to a higher risk of discrimination against certain groups of labour. Furthermore, the report finds that discrimination at the workplace has become more diverse, is largely based on multiple grounds, and is fed by weakened attention for anti-discrimination policies and workers’ rights in practice.

Entitled Equality at work: The continuing challenge, the report highlights that discrimination in the labour market continuous to be related to gender, nationality, age, race, ethnicity, religion, political opinion, sexual orientation, disability, lifestyle, HIV/AIDS or migrant status. For example, the report explains that women are still discriminated upon for pregnancy and maternity reasons. Moreover, women continue to earn less than men. On average, the report finds that women receive only 70-90 per cent of men’s wages. The report further shows that sexual harassment remains a significant problem experienced by both men and women, although to different extents. Persons with disabilities continue to experience very low employment rates; and mandatory testing can negatively impact work opportunities for people with HIV/AIDS. For migrant workers, the report notes: “migrant workers face widespread discrimination in access to employment, and many encounter discrimination when employed, including access to social insurance programmes.”

Besides from the economic and social downturn, the report identifies capacity constraints as one of the main causes of the increasing levels of discrimination at work. To quote from the report: “Having laws and institutions to prevent discrimination at work and offer remedies is not enough; keeping them functioning effectively is a challenge, especially in troubled times. Many of the institutions are faced with a shortage of human and financial resources, inadequate policy coherence at the national and local levels, and insufficient synergy and cooperation with other relevant institutions. Labour inspectors, judges, public officials and other competent authorities encounter a lack of knowledge and inadequate institutional capacity when they attempt to identify and address discrimination cases.”

To address discrimination in and around the workplace, the ILO calls upon governments to universally ratify and apply the ILO Conventions on equality (the Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951) and non-discrimination (the Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958). Other recommendations include the development and sharing of knowledge on the elimination of discrimination in employment and occupation; development of the institutional capacity of ILO constituents to more effectively implement the fundamental right of non-discrimination at work; and strengthening of international partnerships with major actors on equality.

To access the full report, click here.

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