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Racism is rife in the workplace right across Europe

African migrants in Spain are twice as likely to be unemployed compared to people from the majority population while in Finland and Belgium, unemployment rates are three times higher for people born outside the EU than for the native-born population – irrespective of their qualifications – writes Michaël Privot

At the end of this week, we will be celebrating the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Unfortunately, from an anti-discrimination and equality perspective, there is not much to celebrate. It will not come as a surprise that for Black people, Roma, Muslims and migrants from non-European Union countries living in Europe discrimination continues to be a major obstacle when looking for a job and even once in employment. For women with a minority or migrant background, it is even worse.

The ongoing financial and economic crisis, which Europe has been facing for the last six years, coupled with the lack of social investment, has not made the situation any better. It has worsened discrimination against minorities and migrants, and increased the employment gap between the latter and the majority population. African migrants in Spain are twice as likely to be unemployed compared to people from the majority population. In Finland and Belgium, unemployment rates are three times higher for people born outside the EU than for the native-born population – irrespective of their qualifications.

Migrants and minorities face discrimination when they are applying for jobs. For instance, when the selection is on the basis of names and addresses or when recruitment agencies adopt discriminatory practices. For example, in the United Kingdom, people with foreign sounding names are a third less likely to be shortlisted for jobs than people with white British sounding names. In the Netherlands, more than half of recruitment agencies complied with a request not to introduce Moroccan, Turkish or Surinamese candidates.

Even once they are in a job, ethnic and religious minorities continue to face unequal treatment. Lower wages, the glass ceiling, precarious and difficult working conditions, harassment and abusive dismissal are just some of the manifestations. In Hungary for example, wages paid to Roma are lower than the Hungarian minimum wage. In Poland, migrant workers are often forced to work overtime under the threat of dismissal.

These discriminatory practices occur despite the existence of EU legislation prohibiting discrimination in employment. Regrettably, these laws are not always as efficient as they should be. As a result, many victims of discrimination are left unprotected.

States across Europe lack the political will to tackle discrimination in employment despite the fact that it is widespread across Europe. It is time politicians took this issue seriously, especially in view of the upcoming European elections. Indeed, unemployment remains the main concern for citizens and access to quality work will be a high priority among voters – including those with a minority or migrant background, who make up about 12 per cent of the European population.

Are there solutions? Yes but they take some political courage as it is about splitting the cake differently to ensure everybody – black and white alike – has access to the benefits of growth. European countries have never been so wealthy in their whole history. In Belgium alone with its 11.5 million inhabitants, private savings accounts soared effortlessly from €245bn to €251bn over the last year. For now, the cursor has been tilted towards massive accumulation of capital – not towards productive and sustainable investment in the economy. This would, however, improve living standards and conditions for all citizens including migrants and ethnic and religious minorities – by the very fact that realising equality in employment would become a business imperative.

A concrete step in the right direction would be to collect equality data to measure racial and religious discrimination in employment, as systematically as we do with gender and age. We know that if we are not counted, we do not count. Without the numbers, how can policy makers monitor the effectiveness of anti-discrimination policies? States also need to establish standards on labour inspection, geared towards improving the detection of ethnic and religious discrimination in the workplace – and to ensure that labour market regulations respect the ‘equal status and equal pay for equal work’ principle so that all workers – nationals, EU migrants and non-EU migrants – enjoy equal treatment.

Finally, non-governmental organisations working on the ground with victims of discrimination need to have sufficient financial resources so that they can collect complaints on discrimination and better support victims seeking legal help. Discrimination in employment is an issue for 60 million Europeans belonging to ethnic and religious minorities. Estimates forecast that addressing discrimination in employment could improve gross domestic product growth. Politicians can no longer turn a blind eye to the fact that allowing millions of people to be discriminated and excluded from jobs results in a huge waste of talents, skills and wealth; ultimately affecting the wellbeing of all people living across the continent.

Michaël Privot is director of the European Network Against Racism, a network of local and national non-governmental organisations. Follow the organisation on Twitter @ENAREurope

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