The capacity to demonstrate the necessary skills and experiences required for a particular job opening should be used to inform the decision to hire one person and not the other. Discriminating people based on aspects such as physical disability, genetic information, religious orientation, or their bodily appearance disadvantages an organization. It not only minimizes the range of talent potential for building a competitive advantage but also hinders the development and nurturing of future talents.
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These concerns support the need for anti-discrimination Acts in the Australian legislation. Indeed, various state and federal anti-discrimination provisions, including the Sex Discrimination Act of 1984 and the Affirmative Act of 1986, have been operationalized in Australia. This paper examines whether these policies effectively reduce discriminatory behaviors in the workplace or whether more effort needs to be put to deal with favoritism at the workplace.
The Purpose of Anti-discrimination Acts in Australia
Apart from engaging in entrepreneurial activities, employment is a leading source of livelihood for many Australians. Employees have the right to equal participation in paid work without any discrimination. Mitigating the issue of discrimination paves the way for equal opportunities for all people (Australian Government, 2012). Australia recognizes the need for the equality of all people, irrespective of their disabilities, looks, race, gender, age, or ethnicity.
Anti-discrimination Acts seek to enhance the equality of people in Australia. Fairness refers to a state of affairs where people in a society or even isolated groups of people enjoy the same status regarding certain respects. For instance, social equality implies the possession of equal rights as stipulated by the law on property rights, the freedom of speech, equal access to public social goods and public services, assembly privileges, and voting rights. Equality also means health impartiality, social security justice, and economic equity (Majeed, Forder, Mishra, & Byles, 2015).
Discrimination implies a state in which people’s access to fundamental rights is curtailed based on their unique differences (Fields & Cheeseman, 2013). For example, women in Australia enjoy the right to receive maternity leave as part of the terms and conditions of employment in all organizations. However, in some situations, women may fail to disclose their pregnancy status, especially during job opening interviews, owing to the fear that the employing organization may develop the perception that they (women) will fail to perform according to expectations due to the added role of taking care of children. While several policies have been established to help fight discrimination in Australia, the next section focuses only on the Sex Discrimination Act of 1984 and the Affirmative Act of 1986.
The Sex Discrimination Act of 1984
In July 1980, Australia signed the UN Convention agreement to eliminate all forms of women discrimination. It engaged in various consultations with different states and Commonwealth members before deciding to ratify the policy in 1983. Section 2(b) of the UN Convention required all states to adopt various measures, including policies and sanctions, where necessary, to eliminate any form of discrimination that targeted women (Majeed et al., 2015). This requirement culminated in the enactment of the Sex Discrimination Act of 1984.
The Act has four main objectives. Firstly, it seeks to ensure that particular provisions of the UN Convention concerning eliminating all forms of discrimination against women are executed (Australian Government, 2012). Secondly, it focuses on eradicating discrimination (by prohibiting it) that targets people based on their sex, pregnancy, or even marital status in all workplaces within Australia. The Act has extended its mandate to focus on educational institutions, accommodation places, land disposals, administration of Commonwealth programs and laws, and the mode of acquiring services, facilities, and any form of goods.
On the grounds of marital status, discrimination occurs when one is treated less favorably due to his or her sex or “marital status, or a characteristic appertaining to or generally imputed to persons of that sex or marital status” (Australian Government, 2012, p.11). On the grounds of pregnancy, discrimination occurs where one must comply with conditions, which a substantially higher number of people who are not pregnant can abide by, despite them (conditions) being unreasonable. However, men cannot claim to be discriminated by virtue of not being given privileges that equal to those accorded to pregnant women.
Thirdly, it endeavors to eliminate sexual harassment cases in educational institutions and workplaces. It prohibits acts of sexual advancement, requests for sexual favors, or any other undesirable sexual behavior that disadvantages one’s employment, including the chances of getting paid job or educational opportunities (Winchester & Lynette, 2015). Fourthly, it seeks to recognize, promote, and enhance the acceptance of the importance of gender equality in all Australian communities.
The Act establishes an office of the commissioner who is tasked with investigating sex discrimination cases. Among many other responsibilities, the commissioner is required to make inquiries into any allegations of infringement of one’s right to nondiscrimination. However, they may choose not to make the inquiries once satisfied that the claimed action is legitimate or where the aggrieved party does not want the inquiry process to progress. They may also discard the case upon the elapsing of 12 months after the claimed Act occurred or where the complainant lacks substance, is vexatious, and lighthearted (Winchester & Lynette, 2015).
The Affirmative Act of 1986
The Act requires particular employers to avail equal employment chances or opportunities for women in Australia. The Affirmative Action (AA) operation emerged following the recognition that women were increasingly participating in the Australian workforce, despite facing the challenge of not being considered for higher work positions. Hence, The Affirmative Act of 1986 endeavored to eliminate all restrictions and barriers for women to advance in the employment ladder through promotions (Australian Government, 2012). Section 8(1) paragraph (f) requires the relevant employers in Australia to consider their policies and examine various practices in employment matters. Such employers should identify various policies and practices that lead to the discrimination of women in workplaces.
The Affirmative Act of 1986 does not deny organizations the freedom to employ people they deem fit to execute specific job requirements. However, recruitment and hiring should be based on merit but not on discriminatory practices. Indeed, the Affirmative Act of 1986 compels organizations that have employed more than 100 people to implement the AA program (Adriaanse & Schofield, 2014). In this process, organizations are required to assign responsibilities to provide equal employment opportunities for women, regardless of the seniority of the position, and allocate adequate personnel that can ensure that the task is accomplished as required.
Hence, organizations should “undertake an analysis of the position of women in their organizations through examining employment statistics or policies and consulting with women employees and trade unions” (Biddle, 2013, p. 389). In other words, the legislation provides a mechanism for enhancing women’s bargaining capacity to ensure a sympathetic work environment for them.
Effectiveness of the Acts in Reducing Discriminatory Behavior in the Workplace
Policies that address the issue of equal employment and sex discrimination do not function in a vacuum. They interact with various employment policies and legal guidelines. The Australia industrial sector has undergone incredible changes since the 1980s. Initially, the country’s centralized system relied on reconciliation and adjudication as part of mechanisms that interacted through semi-judicial interventions.
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However, this situation has evolved to usher in a fragmented system guided by the principles of workplace bargaining (Daly & Gebremedhin, 2015). These developments occurred at a time when trade union membership was going down. This period was also marked by limited voices of women working in sectors or industries that recorded a high cost of wages while lacking adequate mechanisms to measure the output from female workers.
In such environments, the question of whether anti-discrimination policies, including the Sex Discrimination Act of 1984 and the Affirmative Act of 1986, effectively reduce the observed discriminatory behavior in workplaces remains significant. Does Australia need to do more apart from implementing these Acts to eliminate discrimination cases in the workplace?
In Australia, the Australian Human Rights Commission’s research indicated that about 49 percent of women claimed they were discriminated in terms of parental leaves, upon returning to work from leaves, and pregnancy period (Waters, 2014, para. 3). More of this unfairness (35%) was likely when returning to work (Australian Nursing and Midwifery, 2014). Such favoritism occurred, despite the existence of the Sex Discrimination Act of 1984. Hence, the Act does not provide effective mechanisms for screening all organizations in Australia to avoid its provisions. Consequently, it is important to revisit the mechanisms that have been established to enforce the anti-discrimination Acts in Australia.
Australian Nursing and Midwifery (2014) reveals the most common inequalities in the Australian workplace, including denial of a flexible working schedule to take care of familial responsibilities and unfair treatment on returning to work from parental leaves. Such inequalities reflect how gender is performed in social institutions. In other words, different perceptions of men and women’s roles and functions have led many Australian organizations to hire male workers at the expense of their female counterparts to enhance their success. The worst situation occurs when such discriminatory deeds and inequalities become a norm within an organization against the provisions of the anti-discrimination policies (Soldan & Nankervis, 2014).
The Sex Discrimination Act of 1984 and the Affirmative Act of 1986 sought to deal with the traditional and discriminatory practices of allocating roles within social institutions and workplaces. For instance, the amount of physical effort required to complete a given task successfully in the workplace formed a conventional mechanism for allocating tasks to workers (Velez & Moradi, 2012). This strategy resulted in men getting jobs that required a higher physical ability.
In turn, women became discriminated unreasonably due to the perception that they did not possess such an ability. For instance, female workers in a warehouse could remain in one job position because of their incapacity to execute strenuous physical labor. Waters (2014) asserts that such perceptions have not yet ended, a situation that contravenes the Affirmative Act of 1986. Indeed, despite the existence of the Affirmative Act, Pyke (2013) argues that women in Australia continue to hold positions that require minimal efforts and skills. Therefore, Australia needs to invest in creating awareness about the capability of women to perform well, even in strenuous jobs.
Australia is not alone in a dilemma concerning the effectiveness of the anti-discrimination Acts in eliminating discriminatory behaviors in the workplace (Velez & Moradi, 2012). In the US context, different-gendered members may hold matching job titles, execute comparable responsibilities within an organization, and yet receive different salaries or wages. Indeed, a 2008 study conducted by the US Department of Labor evidenced that female workers only earned a cumulative of 80% of total men’s take-home pay (Velez & Moradi, 2012).
Apart from breaching the provisions of the 1963 Act on equal pay, this evidence reveals the existence of discriminatory policies that are otherwise meant to address the issue of salaries and wages. Hence, gender discrimination in organizations still prevails. Even though organizational anti-discrimination Acts in Australia and the US prohibit gender inequity during the hiring process, the persistence of gender stereotypes may still result in discrimination in recruitment and selection processes and hence the need to regard the above Acts as ineffective in realizing their mandate of eradicating job-based discrimination in Australia.
Discrimination in the workplace has attracted criticisms from many nations to the extent that they have introduced anti-discrimination Acts to eliminate the vice. In Australia, the Sex Discrimination Act of 1984 ensures that people are not discriminated in the workplace on the grounds of their sex. The Affirmative Act of 1986 ensures equal participation of women in employment opportunities and job elevations.
While these Acts have largely contributed to eliminating workplace prejudice, Australia needs to do more to eradicate the behavior in workplaces. However, it is crucial to note that workplace discrimination has cultural dimensions, which the above provisions may not address effectively.
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