The Gillard Government’s reform of anti-discrimination laws will make it easier for workers to take action when they are discriminated against.
The ACTU will appear today at a Senate Committee hearing into the laws to offer a workers’ perspective on what changes are needed to protect individuals who are discriminated against.
ACTU President Ged Kearney said strong anti-discrimination laws were critical to ensuring all Australians had the right to participate in public life, and the job market.
“It is not good enough just to have these laws on the books, they need to be available to ordinary workers, and these new laws will help to do that,” Ms Kearney said.
“Ensuring that all Australian can be part of the workforce will benefit the entire nation in the long run.
“Business has no cause to complain as the government has avoided changes which may have involved increasing red tape.
“Discrimination is still a real issue in the workplace, for example 20 per cent of pregnant women report that they are discriminated against.”
Ms Kearney said the amendments addressed some of the key problems with the current anti-discrimination system by introducing a shared burden of proof for employers and employees and by ensuring workers would not have to pay employers costs.
“Too many workers do not have access to justice when they are discriminated against because of cost or technical barriers. These reforms go some way to addressing that imbalance of power.
Ms Kearney said the ACTU supported the amendments but was disappointed they had not gone further.
“This is a missed opportunity to require employers to take positive steps to prevent workplace discrimination and to allow the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission to take steps to tackle systemic discrimination,” Ms Kearney said.
“As long as the system requires individuals who experience discrimination to make complaints, we will not be able to fully tackle entrenched discrimination.
“The legislation also contains some inappropriate exemptions such as the “inherent requirements of the job” clause, which may be abused.
“We believe that more support is needed for complainants to ensure that access to anti-discrimination law is available to those who need it.”
“Unions will ask the government to amend the legislation to give domestic workers, including the growing number of home care workers, the same protection all other workers will have.”