Travellers in the Mainstream Labour Market Report

1st April 2021

Mincéir Misl’er a Tom Tober – Travellers in the Mainstream Labour Market: Situation, Experience and Identity was launched by Minister Joe O’Brien on 13th April. It was commissioned by SSGT from ValuesLab to contribute to the body of knowledge on the experiences of Travellers in accessing, participating and progressing in employment, to provide insights for policymakers, employers and trade unions to enable their action on issues of Traveller labour market participation.  

‘Connectors’ play key role in helping Travellers get into the labour market – report proposes public sector work experience and internship programmes, expansion of Traveller employment liaison staff under Department of Social Protection

A new research report for the St Stephen’s Green Trust says improving Traveller employment needs to become a significant focus for Government policy and strategy if the 80% unemployment rate amongst Travellers is to be tackled.

The report, Travellers in the Mainstream Labour Market – launched by the Minister for Community Development and Charities, Joe O’Brien TD – was prepared by Values Lab based on detailed qualitative interviews with Travellers working in a range of employment settings, and further interviews with employers, trade unions and policy makers.

Travellers in the Mainstream Labour Market is proposing that Traveller employment should be a named focus with targets in the forthcoming Pathways to Work employment strategy and the review of the National Social Enterprise Policy, as well as the next iterations of the National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy and the National Strategy for Women and Girls.

One of Travellers in the Mainstream Labour Market authors, Rachel Mullen, explained that having access to trusted connectors that can link prospective employers with the Traveller community, emerged as an important factor in the research in terms of assisting Travellers in securing employment, particularly their first job.

“Our report identified a number of key ways through which Travellers are connected into the labour market including through family members or friends in a particular workplace, through local Traveller organisations, through dedicated employment services, through placements and internships as well as through links made in higher education. However, because Travellers have fewer employment connections of this nature at their disposal than non-Travellers, then Government policy needs to focus on assisting Travellers with such connections.”

In this context, Travellers in the Mainstream Labour Market is proposing:

  • A programme of work experience and internships for Travellers in the public sector including government departments, local authorities and state agencies;
  • A reconfiguration and expansion of the network of Traveller employment liaison personnel – under the Department of Social Protection – to act as connectors between Travellers and employers, as well as providing support to both;
  • That IBEC promotes a model of local partnerships between private companies and Traveller organisations to create work experience and employment opportunities for Travellers.

Speaking at the launch webinar, Minister Joe O’Brien said that the ongoing unacceptable situation of Travellers in Ireland can be tackled in a variety of ways.

“One of the most impactful in my view is facilitating access to employment. For marginalised groups access to employment can be liberating and empowering and ultimately a route out of poverty. I think we need to develop targeted measures to break down the barriers that Travellers face in accessing the labour market. This will not just be good for Travellers but society as a whole. The settled community needs to have more personal experience of having co-workers who are Travellers if we are to effectively tackle the deep-grained prejudicial views towards Travellers in Irish society.”

Minister O’Brien said that he was delighted to see that an exemplar and Traveller-led project that is mentioned in the report, a social enterprise called Bounce Back Recycling, is supported by his Department of Rural & Community Development. 

Brigid Quilligan, Manager of the Kerry Travellers Health and Community Development Project, said that Travellers in the Mainstream Labour Market shows that Travellers have a strong work ethic with higher levels of educational attainment than ever before, but despite that, unemployment in the community stands at 80%.

“Racist attitudes and stereotypes are at the heart of why Travellers find it so difficult to find employment and stay in employment and changing such attitudes will involve significant cultural shifts. As the report points out, unfortunately, micro-aggressions in the form of workplace conversations that are hostile or negative about Travellers are a common and difficult experience for many. Changing this culture is crucial and will require action by employers and trade unions – for example line managers need to challenge unacceptable behaviour by other employees towards Travellers.”

In this context, Brigid Quilligan pointed out that Travellers in the Mainstream Labour Market makes a number of recommendations aimed at employers and trade unions:

  • Employer bodies and unions provide awareness programmes for members on Travellers’ aspirations for employment, the difficulties experienced by Travellers and the steps that need to be taken;
  • Training, guidance and supports be developed and made available for employers in building workplace cultures that support Travellers;
  • Trade unions give a priority to recruiting and supporting Travellers.

The report can be downloaded here.