Global economic crisis opens up new space for discrimination at work

In the new Global Report on Equality at Work 2011, the International Labour
Office (ILO) notes 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 such as migrant

The report, entitled Equality at work: The continuing challenge1, cites
equality bodies which receive increased numbers of complaints, showing that
workplace discrimination has become more varied, and discrimination on multiple
grounds is becoming the rule rather than the exception.

It also warns against a tendency during economic downturns to give lower
priority to anti-discrimination policies and workers' rights in practice.
"Austerity measures and cutbacks in the budget of labour administrations and
inspection services, and in funds available to specialized bodies dealing with
non-discrimination and equality, can seriously compromise the ability of
existing institutions to prevent the economic crisis from generating more
discrimination and more inequalities", the report says.

According to the report, the lack of reliable data in this context makes it
difficult to assess the exact impact of these measures. It therefore calls on
governments to put into place human, technical and financial resources to
improve data collection on discrimination at the national level.

Types of discrimination

The report also notes that new forms of discrimination at work arise while the
old challenges remain at best only partially answered. Among the key findings
of the report:

  • Significant progress has been made in recent decades in advancing gender equality in the world of work. However, the gender pay gap still exists, with women's wages being on average 70-90 per cent of men's. While flexible arrangements of working schedules are gradually being introduced as an element of more family-friendly policies, discrimination related to pregnancy and maternity is still common.

  • Sexual harassment is a significant problem in workplaces. Young, financially dependent, single or divorced women, and migrants are most vulnerable, while men who experience harassment tend to be young, gay or members of ethnic or racial minorities.

  • Combating racism is as relevant today as it ever was. Barriers impeding equal access to the labour market still need to be dismantled, particularly for people of African and Asian descent, indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities, and above all women in these groups.

  • Migrant workers face widespread discrimination in access to employment, and many encounter discrimination when employed, including access to social insurance programmes.

  • Rising numbers of women and men experience discrimination on religious grounds, while discrimination on the basis of political opinion tends to take place in the public sector, where loyalty to the policies of authorities in power can be a factor in access to employment.

  • Work-related discrimination continues to exist for many of the world's 650 million persons with disabilities as their low employment rate reveals.

  • Persons with HIV/AIDS can suffer discrimination through mandatory testing policies, or testing under conditions which are not genuinely voluntary or confidential.

  • In the European Union, a total of 64 per cent of those surveyed expected that the economic crisis would lead to more age discrimination in the labour market.

  • In a limited number of industrialized countries, discrimination based on lifestyle has emerged as a topical issue, especially in relation to smoking and obesity.

More information - Source: International Labour Office