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The Equality Authority is an independent body set up under the Employment Equality Act of 1998. It was established on 18 October 1999.
The Employment Equality Act of 1998 and the Equal Status Act of 2000, outlaw discrimination in employment, vocational training, advertising, collective agreements, the provision of goods and services and other facilities, such as accommodation and education, to which the public generally have access, on nine distinct grounds. These are: gender; marital status; family status; age; disability; race (which includes race, colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin); sexual orientation; religious belief; and membership of the Traveller community.
Discrimination is described in the Act as the treatment of a person in a less favourable way than another person is, has been or would be treated on any of the above grounds.
The general functions of the Equality Authority established under the above legislation are:
- To work towards the elimination of discrimination in relation to the areas covered by the legislation.
- To promote equality of opportunity in relation to the areas covered by the legislation.
- To provide information to the public on the working of the Employment Equality Act, 1998, the Equal Status Act, 2000, the Maternity Protection Act, 1994 and the Adoptive Leave Act, 1995. The Parental Leave Act, 1998, also accords the Equality Authority an information role on the provisions of that legislation.
- To keep under review the working of the Pensions Act, 1990, as regards the principle of equal treatment.
- To keep under review the working of the Employment Equality Act, 1998, the Equal Status Act, 2000, the Maternity Protection Act, 1994 and the Adoptive Leave Act, 1995 and to make recommendations for necessary change to the Minister.
These functions establish a dual mandate for the Equality Authority – to combat discrimination and to promote equality of opportunity. This involves a combination of enforcement and developmental approaches in the work of the Equality Authority.
The legislation provides the Equality Authority with a range of explicit powers to implement these functions. These are:
- To provide assistance at its discretion to those who consider that they have been discriminated against if there is an important point of principle involved or if it is unreasonable to expect the person to represent themselves.
- To prepare, for submission to the Minister, codes of practice which if approved can be relied on in relevant court proceedings.
- To invite a business to carry out an equality review and to prepare and implement an equality action plan, or, where appropriate and where the business does not have less than fifty employees, carry out such a review and prepare such an action plan on its own initiative. An equality review involves an audit of the level of equality of opportunity in the business from an employment and/or a service provision perspective and an examination of policies, practices, procedures and perceptions for their contribution to equality of opportunity. An equality action plan is a programme of actions to further promote equality of opportunity in the business.
- To conduct an enquiry for any purpose connected with its functions and to conclude by making any necessary recommendations.
- To appoint advisory committees to advise on matters relating to its function.
- To undertake or sponsor research.
- To undertake or sponsor activities relating to the dissemination of information.
The Equality Authority is headed by a Board consisting of 12 members, which includes two nominations from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and two nominations from the Irish Business and Employers Confederation. The other members are drawn from organisations and groups who have knowledge or experience of equality issues. A Chief Executive is accountable to the Board. A senior management team includes a legal advisor and head of legal section, head of administration section, head of development section, head of research section and head of communication section.
The Equality Authority is committed to realising positive change in the situation of those experiencing inequality by:
1. promoting and defending the rights established in the equality legislation and
2. providing leadership in building a commitment to addressing equality issues in practice, creating a wider awareness of equality issues, celebrating the diversity in Irish society and mainstreaming equality considerations across all sectors.
Its main activities to achieve these objectives in the area of combating racism are:
- Casework in supporting individuals taking cases under the legislation and in taking cases on a general practical basis.
- Initiatives to support the development of the National Action Plan on Racism and its implementation.
- Developing and implementing a joint initiative with the Social Partners and also involving the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, to promote and support anti-racism in the workplace. The themes of the Anti-Racist Workplace Weeks have included anti-racist training for organisations and migrant workers.
- Research work developing a knowledge base on the situation and experience of those experiencing racism and to analyse policy and practice for their capacity to address this issue.