Exchange of views with the European Parliament Committee on Employment and Social Affairs

Speech by Morten Kjærum Director of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights at the Exchange of views with the European Parliament Committee on Employment and Social Affairs on 15 June, Brussels.
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Speech by FRA Director Morten Kjaerum to the European Parliament Committee of Employment and Social Affairs

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Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to appear before you today. Having only this
morning presented the Agency’s Annual Report on “Fundamental rights:
challenges and achievements in 2010” before the LIBE Committee, it really
brings home to me just how much fundamental rights are a cross-cutting issue,
relevant to the work of the Parliament as a whole.
Today I would like to cover three issues that the Agency is currently working
on: the Roma, the rights of persons with disabilities and the position of
irregular migrants in domestic work. I trust that these can help to inform your
work, particularly on the issues of early school leaving, the inclusion of persons
with disabilities, and the European Platform against poverty and social
exclusion.
1). Firstly, in relation to the Roma. As you will be well aware, this continues
to be the most discriminated against group in Europe. In 2008 the Agency
interviewed 23,500 ethnic minorities including Roma on their experiences of
discrimination.
For today I was asked, more specifically, if I could relate the Agency’s research
to the problem of early school leaving. As you will know the right to education
is a human right and like all rights, it is to be enjoyed equally between all
people.

Of the seven Member States where the Agency surveyed Roma in 2008 we
found significant proportions leaving education with no more than five years of
schooling. For four of these countries the proportion was between 35 and 75%.
I am not sure if we can in fact use the term ‘early school leaver’ without
exercising caution. The definition used by the Commission is someone who has
left education or training before completing upper secondary education or
equivalent vocational training. In 2009 around 14% of young people were early
school leavers, but only around 17% of these left with just only primary
education.
So the starting point for addressing early school leaving for the Roma is very
different from the majority population.
The Agency’s research has identified some possible causes for this massive
difference. Clearly discrimination plays an important role, for example through
segregation of Roma pupils in so-called special schools.
Some Member States have made progress on moving Roma into the
mainstream education system. However, without further steps to encourage
tolerance and combat racial prejudice, Roma pupils encounter bullying from
their peers and hostility from staff, as well as hostility from non-Roma parents.
Other possible factors may not be directly related to discrimination, but might
be more connected to socio-economic problems that affect the majority
population, but in particular the Roma. For example:
• it is not unusual for poorer elements of society to live in housing that is
badly connected to public services, including schools, and this can act as
a disincentive for continuing with education, especially if transport to
school is not affordable or not existing as I witnessed recently in a Roma
settlement.
• there may also be pressure on children to become economically active at
an early stage to help to supplement the family income.
• and there may also be cultural barriers where parents do not see the
value or contribution of education to their way of life.

Deeper research is needed to identify what part these factors play and whether
they are socio-economic problems or problems of discrimination. And this is
why the Agency’s ongoing survey on discrimination against the Roma does not
only look at Roma communities themselves. It also surveys non-Roma who
live in adjacent communities to compare their enjoyment of rights.
2). Secondly, turning to the Agency’s work on the rights of persons with
disabilities. As you know, now that the EU has ratified the UN Convention on
the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, it is under direct obligations to protect
and promote their rights within its competence.
The Agency is carrying out a substantial amount of research in this area which
will provide data and expertise on how to provide equal opportunities, prohibit
discrimination and promote the inclusion of persons with disabilities. Last year
the Agency published a report on the right to political participation, which
found that some Member States effectively impose a blanket exclusion on
persons with intellectual disabilities and mental health problems voting in
elections, because this right is tied to legal capacity. This clearly contributes
towards their exclusion from political life, including participation in the
Union’s democratic functioning.
Our ongoing research deals with four themes:
• conditions in long-term residential institutions (such as social care
homes)
• independent living and participation in the community
• legal capacity
• and access to justice
Early next year the Agency will launch a comparative report based on
interviews and fieldwork in 9 Member States (Bulgaria, France, Germany,
Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Romania, Sweden and the United Kingdom) looking
at conditions on the ground.

It remains difficult to collect comparable data on the number of institutions that
exist, and the number of people who live there. It is perhaps less important to
focus on the number of institutions per se, but rather on changing the
philosophy behind how care is delivered, moving from block treatment to more
individualised care in the community.

I would like to highlight 4 issues emerging from our preliminary findings.
• firstly, that while de-institutionalisation – in favour of promoting
support for independent living in the community – is to be preferred,
these two processes need to be co-ordinated and put into effect
gradually. It is not simply a case of closing institutions in one day and
putting people directly onto the street; in this way they may end up in
prisons, which we have seen in some member states;
• secondly, EU structural funds could be directed towards building up the
housing and infrastructure to support independent living, rather than to
renovating and repairing existing institutions;
• thirdly, our research so far has confirmed that persons with disabilities
themselves find that some form of employment or work is valuable to
them on a personal level. It brings meaning and value to their lives. At
the same time we must guard against the risk of exploitation of people as
free manual labour. For example, one interviewee reported that the
house of a director of an institution was built using manual labour from
the institution itself.
• finally, the Agency’s findings suggest that the best way to open the
mainstream labour market to persons with disabilities is to open the
mainstream education system by applying an approach of inclusive
education. The ratification of the UN Convention turns a new page in
the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities. 

3). Thirdly, I would like to move on to the Agency’s work on irregular
migrants in domestic work. Our report on this issue will be available next
month and is part of a larger project on the fundamental rights of irregular
migrants.
This report relates to a particular category – third country nationals with an
irregular immigration status, who are engaged in domestic work. So it does not
relate, for instance, to individuals who are working in breach of their visa
conditions.
The research was carried out in ten Member States (Belgium, France,
Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Spain and Sweden) through
interviews with domestic workers and civil society organisations. It is the first
report to analyse the situation across different Member States and it covers 5
main areas – working conditions, dismissal, freedom of association, redress
mechanisms and family life.
I will outline three of the challenges highlighted in our research.
• firstly, this is a group that is inherently more likely to experience
multiple discrimination. Domestic work is performed predominantly by
women, and as such they are vulnerable to gender-based violence. For
example, sexual assault is a particular risk for live-in domestic workers.
Since they are foreign nationals they are also vulnerable to abuse on the
basis of their race or ethnicity.
• secondly, as highlighted in a recent resolution of the Parliament on the
proposed ILO convention on domestic workers, domestic work is
usually less regulated than other forms of labour. For example, Labour
inspectorates, do not tend to operate in the domestic context.
• thirdly, there are significant barriers in getting access to justice to report
abuse or to enforce their rights under labour law. Perhaps the biggest
obstacle is that victims fear being reported to immigration authorities
and deported if they go to court.
Of course, there is no obligation to give irregular migrants access to the
employment market. But, irregular migrants do benefit from the same range of
rights as everyone else under international and European human rights law and
ILO conventions. In practice, national law is not always explicit in
guaranteeing this, and I will highlight two of the Agency’s opinions in this
regard:
• firstly, the introduction of clear standards on minimum pay, conditions
of work including rest and sick leave and compensation for accidents,
as well as labour inspection of work places, for domestic work,
including for irregular workers.
• secondly, Member States could also consider expressly recognising that
there is a considerable demand for this work force at national level and
introduce targeted migration programmes to ensure these workers have
regular status and so can get better protection.

Ladies and gentlemen,
the many challenges facing the Roma, persons with disabilities and irregular
workers underlines just how much work remains to be done to give effect to
fundamental rights guarantees. The Agency is happy to assist your committee
with its research and expertise in addressing these many challenges.
I look forward to your questions and thank you for your attention.