Belfast university 'treats Catholic staff unfairly'

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The Independent Online
AN 'UNDERSTANDABLE lack of trust and confidence' exists in the fair employment record of Queen's University, Belfast, according to a report commissioned from independent consultants by the university itself.

The confidential report, of which the Independent has a copy, says there has been 'a singular failure' at the highest levels to investigate allegations of inequality raised by the personnel and equal opportunities officer.

The 300-page report makes more than 200 specific recommendations for changes in procedures. Together they amount to a call for a complete overhaul of employment practices to ensure equality for Catholics and women in its workforce.

The report was commissioned last June after Queen's, Northern Ireland's premier seat of learning, paid out pounds 40,000 to settle two cases in which it was alleged to have discriminated against Catholics. There are more such cases in the pipeline.

Recommendations include incorporating a commitment to equality in the university's statutes, increasing the number of Catholics and women on the Senate and committees, and changes in recruitment and promotion procedures. The Senate will debate the report's contents tomorrow.

The report also recommends a review of the practice of playing the national anthem at graduation ceremonies and use of the Royal Ulster Constabulary band. There have been complaints that such practices were insensitive to the views of nationalists.

The report says the university has an obligation to promote a neutral working environment, adding: 'It is important that the university should be seen to have a total commitment to equality of opportunity.'

Queen's has often defended its record, emphasising its commitment to fair employment practices. It points out that in five years the percentage of Catholics in its workforce has risen from 20.7 per cent to 27.2 per cent. This came after a Fair Employment Commission investigation.

The report's authors, Employment Equality Services, were pleased to note that Queen's had taken fair employment initiatives and that proportions of women and Catholics increased in the past two years. However, they added that Catholics were still under-represented in most employment categories while women were under-represented in those not viewed as traditionally female.

There are believed to be eight or nine allegations of discrimination awaiting hearing by fair employment tribunals. Not all of these have been made by Catholics.