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Monday, 15th April 2024

Migrant workers vital to health and welfare services and must be protected from discrimination

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Forsa General Secretary, John Callinan.

Wider public service appointments must reflect diversity of communities they serve – Fórsa general secretary

The General Secretary of Ireland’s largest public service trade union, Forsa, has said that skilled workers from 117 different countries have brought their expertise to our healthcare system and that, without the “we must question how quickly the provision of healthcare in this country would crumble.”

Kevin Callinan was addressing the Irish Association of Former Parliamentarians Annual Seminar in the Seanad Chamber at Leinster House. The theme of the seminar is “The challenges and Opportunities of a Multicultural Society.”

Mr Callinan said the available data (from the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland) “paints a distinct picture of our healthcare and social work sector. And knowing the vast diversity of our healthcare workers assists us in prioritising how best we can support the people who provide such a vital public service. 

“As trade unions, we must ensure that these individuals are protected from discrimination, can be integrated into communities, and are welcomed into new spaces with open arms,” he said.

Mr Callinan further emphasised that employers have “a moral and legal obligation to provide workplaces that are free from hate speech, in which their employees can access services and entitlements in an accessible manner, and in which their staff feel safe.” He said Fórsa, which represents more than 85,000 workers nationwide, will continue to emphasise the need for strong anti-discrimination and accessibility policies, and a zero-tolerance approach to hate speech in workplace. He said the Government and the Minister for Health must to do the same.

Public service appointments

Mr Callinan added that this “rich and useful data” on the participation of migrant workers in our health services is not captured across the entirety of the public service. 

He said limited information available from the Public Appointments System (PAS) shows that 88% of applications, between 2019 and 2021, were from individuals who identified as ‘White Irish,’ and of the appointments during that period, 89% were ‘White Irish’ and a further 6% were ‘White’ from any other background. 

He added: “What does this limited data tell us? It tells us one thing: these public services roles are not reflective of the diverse communities that they serve. And this raises some concerns for the public service more broadly. 

“Are ethnic minorities represented in decision-making in public services? Why are individuals from diverse backgrounds not applying for these public service roles? What barriers exist to applying for these roles and how best can they be removed?,” he said.  

Mr Callinan said the Migrant Integration Strategy - adopted by the Government in 2017 to enhance diversity, inclusion, and equity for migrants in employment and access to public services - included plans for proactive outreach measures to be taken by all public sector employers to increase the number of individuals from an immigrant background working within the public and civil service.

He added: “It also set out an aim to have a Civil Service which is reflective of Irish society, with 1% of staffing coming from ethnic minority backgrounds. According to the 2019 Progress Report, only 4% of applications came from migrant communities. There are little to no update on the progress of this important work outside of this.

“It is imperative that the Government not only sets out to monitor its progress on improving diversity within the public service, but publishes this progress as an act of accountability and transparency, and a public display of its commitment to proactively promote inclusion of migrant communities, rather than paying lip service to the idea. 

“I am calling on this government, and the next, to make known their track record on implementing change by publishing progress reports in a timely and consistent fashion throughout the implementation period of each of these inclusion strategies,” he said.

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