From top: Seetec Employment and Skills Ireland deliver Jobpath and Welcome to Work ’employability and skills programmes’ across Ireland ; Eamonn Kelly
In the second of a series of articles examining ’employment activation’ initiatives, Eamonn Kelly explores the concept of discrimination on the grounds of socio-economic status that appears to inform much of the thinking behind the implementation and administration of JobPath.
Eamonn Kelly writes:
There appears to be a general perception that there is some “problem” with JobPath, but the exact why of the problem remains elusive. Willie O’Dea of Fianna Fail recently described the programme as “sinister”, while descriptions ranging from bullying to harassment are routine.
Much of this foggy understanding has to do with the limited time and inclination available to anyone to examine claimed injustices related to employment activation, particularly in a climate of austerity that is seeing so many cutbacks and miseries being inflicted on so many different groups and individuals.
Besides, there is a certain lack of sympathy for the unemployed, who are generally regarded as “lazy” architects of their own condition, so anything that appears to hunt them out of their beds, as common perception has it, seems more than reasonable, particularly given the current climate of austerity.
All these assumptions add up to a situation in which the unemployed are generally perceived as having no cause for complaint concerning any initiative designed to get them back to work. This general assumption makes itself felt in dealing with officials who appear to believe that unemployed people do not have, nor can they expect to enjoy, equal rights and considerations as those enjoyed by working people.
This general premise informs the attitudes of contempt and disregard experienced by many jobseekers at the raw end of the implementation and administration of JobPath.
Put simply, the unemployed are being routinely treated as second class citizens for being unemployed, and much of what they are experiencing in JobPath falls under the category of discrimination on the grounds of socio-economic status.
In the first report of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission in July 2015, disappointment was expressed that Ireland had not implemented socioeconomic discrimination as a ground in equality legislation under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Coincidentally, later that same month, July 2015, JobPath was rolled out in earnest.
Though there is no specific protection in Irish implementation of EU legislation on grounds of socioeconomic status, there does appear to be indirect protection against such discrimination contained in Article 2 of the UN Treaty called the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The protection might be claimed under the term “other status”. The status of “jobseeker” being regarded as that “other status”.
Article 2 (CESCR)
“The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to guarantee that the rights enunciated in the present Covenant will be exercised without discrimination of any kind as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”
Additionally, a discussion paper by Tamas Kadar “An analysis of the introduction of socio-economic status as a discrimination ground” opens with the following paragraph which appears to suggest that Irish citizens are already indirectly protected against discrimination on grounds of socioeconomic status:
“The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), that Ireland ratified in 1989, includes two relevant non-discrimination provisions. Article 2 ensures non-discrimination with regard to rights recognized in the ICCPR, while Article 26 provides for equality before the law and a general prohibition of discrimination. Both Articles contain an open list of discrimination grounds and make explicit reference to, among others, social origin, property and birth.
The recent Mellet v Ireland decision of the Human Rights Committee concerned the abortion of a foetus with a fatal impairment, for which the claimant had to travel to the UK due to legal restrictions in Ireland.
The Committee determined that Article 26, which provides for the right to equality before the law, had been violated as the State “failed to adequately take into account her [Ms. Mellet’s] medical needs and socio-economic circumstances and did not meet the requirements of reasonableness, objectivity and legitimacy of purpose” under Article 26.
The Committee identified two prohibited grounds for finding a violation of Article 26: discrimination on grounds of socio-economic status and gender discrimination…”
If Jobseekers can be regarded as a social group under “other status” it would follow that Jobseekers are protected against discrimination on grounds of socio-economic status.
I point this out because the prejudice against Jobseekers on those grounds is like a foundational prejudice from which all other attitudes and actions in the implementation and administration of JobPath stem, including the lamentable “welfare cheats” campaign.
It is not because JobPath per se is so important, particularly in comparison to other austerity injustices.
It is because that since there is such a lack of public empathy or interest in this particular area, officials may have cut corners, based on the assumption that unemployed people cannot expect to enjoy equal rights or consideration, and may have acted recklessly in implementing a system which appears to set certain damaging understandings and precedents in place in the area of employment relations and fundamental human rights.
Eamonn Kelly is a freelance writer.
Previously: Jobpath And The Reality Of Employment Activation