Race discrimination

Your race can include your skin colour, nationality, ethnicity and country of origin. In Northern Ireland, members of the Irish Travellers community are regarded as a racial group.

Employers must not unlawfully discriminate on the grounds of race. There are many ways in which employers could unlawfully discriminate. These can include:

  • harassment;
  • bullying;
  • indirect discrimination;
  • victimisation;
  • direct discrimination.

If your employer or potential employer fails to stop any of these things occurring, they may be discriminating.

It doesn’t matter if the race discrimination is deliberate or purposeful, or whether the person committing the act of discrimination thinks it is “harmless fun”. The law exists to prevent discrimination and punish those who discriminate.

Racial discrimination legislation covers all aspects of employment, including:

  • pay;
  • terms and conditions;
  • redundancy;
  • dismissal;
  • recruitment;
  • training;
  • promotion;
  • working conditions.

In certain circumstances, it can extend to protection after the working relationship has ended.

Discrimination can happen in any of these areas, and may be direct or indirect.

Indirect race discrimination

If your employer has set up working practices that disadvantage those from a particular racial group, they are breaking the law unless the employer can show that the working practice in question is justified – in other words, that it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

Your rights

You have the right to equal pay, benefits and conditions with your co-workers. You also have the right to work with no fear of discrimination. If your employer allows racial discrimination in the workplace, they are breaking the law.

You also have the right not to be victimised for taking action against racial discrimination. You cannot, for example, be called to a disciplinary meeting for complaining that you have been discriminated against at work.

Remember, discrimination need not be a deliberate act and people may not know they are discriminating. If you have issues regarding your racial equality rights, contact your UNISON rep.

Positive action

Positive action is a form of lawful discrimination that is allowed if a particular racial group is under-represented in the workplace or if that group is reasonably thought to suffer from a particular disadvantage. This may include support and training for people of a particular racial group.

In Northern Ireland, this is permitted to meet specific needs such as training etc to enable a racial group to compete for particular work if that group is under-represented in that area of work. Similar provisions apply to encourage members of particular racial groups to get involved within trade unions, employers’ associations or any professional or trade organisations.

However, it is not legal for an employer to employ a person on the grounds of race, although applications can be encouraged.

If you are a victim of racial discrimination

If you are being discriminated against, you should contact your line manager. If you do not feel that the issue has been successfully resolved, you should contact your local UNISON rep, who will advise you of the next course of action. Find out how to contact your rep.

Remember, strict time limits apply when claiming discrimination at work (usually three months less one day), (the time limit in Northern Ireland is usually three months exactly) so make sure you contact your rep immediately.

Key facts
  • “Race” includes skin colour, nationality, ethnicity and country of origin.
  • In Northern Ireland, Irish Travellers are regarded as a racial group.
  • By law, employers must not discriminate against any employee on the basis of their race.
  • Act immediately if you think you are being discriminated against.


Race discrimination