Ireland's senior inter-county ladies football and camogie panels have published a joint statement stating they will play the remainder of the 2023 season under protest.
This comes after the failure of the GAA, LGFA and the Camogie Association to implement a 'player charter' which establishes minimum standards for the collective welfare of female players after the GPA's State of Play Equality Report, which was issued in April this year, shed light on significant issues in relation to training environments, expenses and medical support. A statement by the senior inter-county camogie and football panels stated, "Despite the evidence presented, they expect us to patiently endure the treatment of second-class citizens"
Teams across the country marked the third stage of protest action at the weekend with the two opposing panels standing shoulder-to-shoulder for the national anthem in t-shirts that read '#United for Equality' and returning to the changing room before throw-in. It is expected that measures will continue to escalate should a satisfactory response not be received. The collective statement warned not to expect "business as usual" in the upcoming weeks and months.
This echoes the outcry of the Canadian women's national football team earlier this year, when the players threatened to boycott team activities and sat out of practice before the start of a tournament due to ongoing disputes with its national federation over equal pay and reported funding cuts.
The Olympic champions reluctantly agreed to return to training following the threat of legal action from Canada Soccer however their efforts were not fruitless as the players made remarkable waves throughout the international football community – with England's Lionesses wearing purple wristbands at the Arnold Clark Cup, to “display their support (for) the Canadian WNT players and for gender equality” (the team said in a tweet). They also received public displays of support from their American and Japanese counterparts.
Gaps in NI Equality Legislation
It is unsurprising that these demands for equal treatment come at a time when our focus is being sharpened on professional standards for women across the board. Whilst there have been a number of measures introduced (or soon to be introduced) in Great Britain in both the workplace and the legislature, Northern Ireland is, unfortunately, lagging behind.
One example of this is the Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Bill, which will come into force in Great Britain on 24 July 2023. At present, an employer must offer those on maternity leave, adoption leave or shared parental leave suitable alternative employment as a priority over other employees in a redundancy process. The new legislation will extend this protection to employees from the date on which they advise the employer that they are pregnant or will be taking adoption or shared parental leave to the time when they have returned to work. This will help reduce the risk of women suffering disadvantage by reason of pregnancy – a protective measure which shows no sign of being implemented in Northern Ireland.
Great Britain will also see the introduction of neonatal leave and pay following the Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Act 2023's receipt of Royal Assent in May of this year. Upon its enactment, the Act will provide eligible employed parents, whose new born babies are admitted to neonatal care, with the option to take 12 weeks paid leave in addition to their other leave maternity or paternity leave entitlements.
The Carers Leave Bill also received Royal Assent in May of this year and this will make provision for employees in Great Britain to take up to five days of unpaid carer's leave.
Given that more than 1.46 million women are kept out of the labour market because of their caring responsibilities and as many as 67% of women feel that childcare duties in the past decade have cost them progress at work, it is disappointing that female employees from Northern Ireland will not be able to reap the same benefits of greater leave entitlement as their counterparts in Great Britain.
Another notable absence in Northern Ireland is that of gender pay gap reporting legislation, which has operated in Great Britain since 2017. This legislation mandates that all organisations with 250 or more employees publish and report specific figures about their gender pay gap.
The law in relation to gender pay gap reporting in Northern Ireland is set out in section 19 of the Employment Act (Northern Ireland) 2016, however, as a result of the collapse of the Northern Irish Assembly, the regulations are yet to be published and remain unenforced. This has obvious ramifications in terms of pay parity and, consequently, equality of opportunities for female employees in Northern Ireland.
Further, following the UK Government's rejection of plans to make menopause a protected characteristic under the Equality Act earlier this year, there remains no legislative provision to support female employees going through menopause in either jurisdiction. Instead, women who suffer from discrimination as a result of their menopausal symptoms must claim on the grounds of age, disability or sex.
Just as professional sporting bodies lag behind in terms of implementing strategies to secure equal standards for men and women, so too does the Northern Irish legislature.
Whilst strides have certainly been made in the race towards gender equality in the past number of years, there is still a long way to go and – as female athletes continue to demonstrate – persistent lobbying for the introduction of provisions which support women in the workplace is essential to secure the long-term goal of equal treatment.