New laws make discrimination claims easier, says ACTU

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New laws make discrimination claims easier, says ACTU

The Federal Government’s planned reform of anti-discrimination laws will make it easier for workers to take action against employers, the ACTU today told a Senate Committee.

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The Federal Government’s planned reform of anti-discrimination laws will make it easier for workers to take action against employers, the ACTU today told a Senate Committee.

The ACTU appeared at a hearing into the laws to offer a ‘workers’ perspective’ on what changes are needed to protect individuals who are discriminated against.

The planned consolidation of various Acts covering discrimination has been attacked over claims the new legislation would ban remarks that ‘offend’ someone and restrict expression of political views.

Reverse onus of proof
 
The changes would also reverse the onus of proof, so that employers would have to prove that they had not discriminated against the worker making the complaint.

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,’ 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.’

Still an issue
 
Kearney said discrimination is still a real issue in the workplace, because 20 per cent of pregnant women report that they are discriminated against.

She 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,’ Kearney said.
 
‘These reforms go some way to addressing that imbalance of power.’

Kearney said the ACTU supported the amendments but was disappointed they had not gone further.

Missed opportunity
 
‘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,’ 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.’
 
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