Tribunal cases involving discrimination more than doubled last year, with unfair treatment based on sex the most common complaint. But rather than being a symptom of a growing issue, this could be down to islanders being “better educated about their rights than ever before”, Citizens Advice have said.
In total, the Employment and Discrimination Tribunal saw the number of complaints increase by 15% last year, according to their Annual Report which was published yesterday.
Complaints based on discrimination – classified as unfair treatment based on race, sex, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity and age in the workplace or otherwise – rose from 12 the previous year to 35.
Of these complaints, 80% concerned discrimination based on gender, while 17% were racial matters.
More than half of discrimination complaints involved ‘direct discrimination’ – deliberate unfavourable treatment based on a particular characteristic. Behaviour which “violates the dignity of the victim or creates an intimidating or offensive environment”, including sexual harassment, for example, accounted for 20% of cases.
According to Malcolm Ferey, Chief Executive of the Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB), the rise in discrimination complaints has been largely attributable to “positive promotion” of the law, making the public less likely to stay silent when faced with discriminatory behaviour:
“People are now more prepared to challenge unacceptable behaviour in any sphere. Even if you see comments online, people don’t just sit back, they’re far more challenging when people are coming out with comments that can amount to discrimination.
“That works outside of the online environment as well. If people hear it in the workplace, years ago people would have been thought of as ‘rocking the boat’ if they highlighted these issues, but now they’re saying, ‘no, you can’t say that.’”
Age was enshrined as a protected characteristic within Discrimination Law in May 2016, and now CAB say they’re “keeping the pressure on” to add disability too.
“Once we’ve got that, you could say that we’ll have a full suite of legislation, which very closely resembles the equality act,” Mr Ferey added.
Pictured: Malcolm Ferey, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Bureau, says that people are better educated about their rights than ever before.
The report showed that construction and hospitality sectors were subject to the majority of complaints - together accounting for over two fifths - with 9% following from the Financial Services industry. Agriculture saw the fewest complaints, accounting for just 1%.
A significant amount of employer complaints revolved around contractual breaches – 233 in all – while 70 issues related to companies that had gone bankrupt or ceased trading. 74% of these claims related to money owed.
95% of complaints were from employees, with winning applicants awarded a total of £75,656.38 last year alone. Employers, meanwhile, successfully claimed just £923.41.
The report noted: “In final hearings, 18 claims concerning outstanding wages were heard – almost 90% of these claims were found in favour of the applicant (the employee).”
In her foreword to the report, outgoing chairperson Nicola Santos-Costa noted the success of a new three week 'cooling off' period initiative, which reduced the number of preliminary hearings, and allowed the Tribunal to focus on full hearings instead, as a result of all parties having more time to conciliate their claims.
"I believe that I leave the Tribunal as an established court service which is confident in the role that it plays in the administration of the employment and discrimination laws in Jersey; laws which govern, bind and direct a modern, outward looking and pluralistic society," she said.
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