Sectarian bullying still rife in Northern Ireland workplaces

Catholics and Protestants report intimidation from colleagues at work in trade union survey

Sectarian difficulties within private firms in Northern Ireland continue to pose major problems, according to a substantial new report from Belfast trade unions.

The report concludes that hundreds of Catholic and Protestant workers encounter verbal abuse, sectarian name-calling and whispering campaigns against them.

The report, by an anti-sectarianism unit within the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, suggests hundreds of workers refrain from registering complaints because of the fear of worsening their situations or losing their jobs.

The majority of those who make complaints are Catholics, but many Protestants also say they are picked on.

The report quotes a series of employees who said they have been affected. One said: "It was all very low key, nothing threatening or violent, nice to your face but really just shutting you out, being excluded from conversations or being ignored. I sometimes dread coming into work but I need the work so I stay."

Another said: "I felt that everyone was looking at me the whole time saying, 'There's the Catholic.' I was desperate to get out." A third reported: "Some would have pushed into me as I walked along the corridors. My lunch box was repeatedly stolen or dumped in the bin, my coat was slashed with a knife or blade of some type. My car was dented and scratched in the car park."

While strengthened laws and increased political focus on discrimination have eradicated much of the traditional imbalance in the public sector, the authors call for more attention to be paid to private companies where safeguards are less strictly applied. They conclude: "It is evident from our research that low-level but persistent sectarian harassment is a feature of too many workplaces in Northern Ireland."

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