– Community Law & Mediation are calling for civil legal aid to be reformed and extended –
‘Too often, those who experience discrimination in the workplace or daily life are unaware of their rights and unsure of where to turn for help’. That’s according to Community Law and Mediation, who have published two new guides aimed at helping the public to understand and navigate employment and equality rights. The guides were launched at an online event today (05.05.21) by Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Roderic O’Gorman TD.
Community Law and Mediation, a community law centre which provides free legal advice, advocacy, mediation and education services, developed the two guides in direct response to a substantial increase in demand for their services over the past year.
The publications – ‘A Guide to taking an Employment Equality Case’ and ‘Discrimination in Accessing Goods and Services’ – seek to inform the public of their rights under Equality legislation, provide for a better understanding of the processes involved and the supports available.
Guides aim to reduce legal confusion amongst public
Rose Wall, CEO of Community Law and Mediation said the increase in demand for information and advice can be directly linked to the Covid-19 pandemic: “There can be no question that the 60 per cent increase in queries in relation to employment issues on 2019 figures are a direct result of Covid-19 as people faced the prospect of losing their jobs, or changes to their working conditions.
“The chaos and uncertainty of Covid-19 has demonstrated how important it is that both employers and employees understand their rights and duties regarding equality and employment law, as well as being made aware of the processes involved in accessing justice.
“We have also seen a 40 percent increase in demand for information and advice in relation to housing and homelessness in the past year. These may have been unprecedented times, but for too long, too many people experiencing discrimination have been unaware of their rights and the information available has been confusing or difficult to understand. These step-by-step guides will empower people to understand their rights and to access justice should they need to.”
Call for legal aid for cases brought before the Workplace Relations Commission
According to Community Law and Mediation, a clear lack of understanding of equality rights amongst the public is underpinned by the low number of equal status complaints, particularly under certain grounds, and this has been further exacerbated by Covid-19. Last year saw a 30 per cent decrease in the number of equal status complaints and a 27 per cent decrease in employment equality complaints.
Community Law and Mediation are campaigning for supports to be put in place to ensure that all groups in Irish society can adequately participate in the Workplace Relations Commission process and access justice.
“The right of access to justice is accepted as a constitutional principle and a right under the European Convention on Human Rights. Without it, people are unable to have their voice heard, exercise their rights, challenge discrimination or hold decision-makers accountable.
“Through our work, we have seen first-hand the numerous barriers to justice experienced by people who have been discriminated against. One of the biggest barriers is our civil legal aid scheme, which currently does not extend to people bringing employment and equality cases before the Workplace Relations Commission. Today, we are calling on the Department of Justice to rectify this when carrying out its long overdue review of the Civil Legal Aid Scheme , due to take place later this year.”
Guides launched by Minister Roderic O’Gorman TD
Speaking at the launch of the Community Law and Mediation guides, Minister Roderic O’Gorman TD said: “At times of uncertainty or stress, there is great comfort in knowing that support is out there and that there are practical steps which you can take. That’s why the launch of these publications – ‘A Guide to taking an Employment Equality Case’ and ‘Discrimination in Accessing Goods and Services’ – are so important.
“The law is here to protect everyone from discrimination in their workplace or daily life, but for many justice, or a means to access it, may feel out of reach. These guides will put practical, easy-to-understand information into the hands of everyone who needs it and when they do, Community Law and Mediation will be there to help.”
Also speaking at today’s online launch Senator Eileen Flynn, Suzy Byrne of the National Advocacy Service for People with Disabilities and Reuben Hambakachere from Cultúr Migrant Centre in County Meath, highlighted the discrimination faced by members of the Traveller community, people with disabilities, and migrants – groups which, Community Law and Mediation report, are less likely to access justice.
The Community Law and Mediation guides have been funded under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Grant Scheme and are available for download at https://communitylawandmediation.ie/.