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Roma job seekers are discriminated against

Strasbourg 02/04/2007
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Roma do not get jobs, they are put in a “glass box”. This is a conclusion of a survey published by the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) in Budapest. In Central and South Eastern European countries employment discrimination is still endemic and blatant. For Romani job-seekers the vacancies are not open - they knock their heads against invisible walls preventing them from getting any job at all.

The ERRC study was carried out in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia and there are similar problems in several other European countries. The unemployment rate is high all over the continent. When Roma have jobs this tends to be limited to tasks providing services to the Roma community itself.

The study also showed that in cases where Roma are employed, they run the risk of discrimination. One in four of the working Roma reported that their pay and other conditions were less favourable than for non-Roma doing the same job.

However, the key problem is that Roma are discriminated against when they try to enter the job market. The study shows that a great number of the applicants were rejected because they could be visibly identified as Roma. Indeed, many of them had openly been told that the reason for their not getting the job was because of their Romani identity.

Another worrying conclusion of the survey was that the governmental labour offices were of such limited help. In fact, the study exposes negative prejudices and even outright racism among officials in those public institutions.

This is all the more unfortunate as economic development in recent years has worked against the Roma. Their traditional occupations are no longer in demand and many of them suffer from low levels of education. This is precisely the type of problem for which we need competent and non-prejudiced labour offices.

These social and socio-economic factors are real and serious but must not be seen as an excuse for passivity against problems caused by prejudices. Indeed, educated Roma also meet discriminatory “glass walls” when they seek employment.

The seriousness of anti-Ziganism demonstrates that we cannot eradicate it through measures aiming at formal equality alone. Roma must reach effective equality of opportunity with everyone else and this clearly requires positive measures to compensate for long-term discrimination and prejudice. Otherwise the situation of many Roma will get worse rather than better.

Special measures are justified when they pursue a legitimate aim and are proportionate to the objective. Governments should draw up dedicated strategies which can effectively bring about equality of opportunity for Roma in employment, education, housing and health care.

There is a shameful implementation deficit on Roma rights. The issue has been put on the agenda of all major international organizations and national governments in Europe, for example through national action plans - but this has not had much impact. Policies have lacked adequate resources, coordination and involvement of local authorities.

Another problem has been that all too often Roma themselves have been excluded from the discussion on how their situation might be improved – instead gaje “experts” have been dominating. This is not a human rights approach. Roma must be seen as key partners in implementing the agenda for securing their own rights.

There are now a number of Roma organisations at local, national and international level and they should be respected by the authorities. The Roma and Travellers Forum in the Council of Europe has the potential of being a crucial consultative and standard setting body for Roma rights all over Europe.

Inside the non-governmental Roma organizations important discussions are ongoing about their own responsibilities and how to make themselves truly representative for the diversity of Roma communities, including for women and young Roma. Activists are warning against allowing the Roma vulnerability to result in attitudes of victimization and dependency. The challenge is to transform the vulnerability into an opportunity for equality – human rights.

There are about ten million Roma in Europe, living in virtually every country on the continent. There is no single type of Roma but a rich variety of cultures, traditions and other characteristics. They speak different languages and practice a number of religions.

Because of anti-Ziganism, many Roma have sadly been afraid to display their Roma identity openly. This is one reason why the number of Roma in national censuses is usually much lower than the real figure. We must break all stereotypes which seek to reduce Roma identities and voices. The time has come to recognise the contribution Roma have already made to European societies.

This is also the aim of the Council of Europe campaign Dosta! (Enough! in Romani) currently underway in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The next step should be to extend the campaign to all European countries. Every European state should join in stating loud and clear that they have had enough of prejudice against Roma.

Thomas Hammarberg