When we talk about Harmony in Australia, we often allude to multiculturalism and how we can live in Harmony with one another. Australia is, after all, one of the most multicultural countries on earth. We speak over 200 languages (including 50 Indigenous languages), and 23% of us are first generation: born overseas. Yet when it comes to workplace practices, often those who are most discriminated against are new migrant workers, and in particular, those who do not speak English as their first language.
Generally it’s company policies, rather than government laws or regulations, that dictate how overseas workers will be treated in work. Instead of being proactive in regards to migrant rights, Australia has left these matters on the back burner. Australia has not signed, for instance, the UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Family. This convention stresses that even “undocumented” workers should have their rights respected, and that migrants should be treated equally, just as any other human being.
Australia, like other receiving countries, avoids signing onto these treaties because they demand obligations in return to receiving migrant workers. These protections go against the current narrative of Australia needing control over its borders, or the ability to turn away, oppress or dehumanize those who are seen as unwelcome and threatening. Discourse in Australia tends to focus on 457 visas, refugees and migrant workers in Australia. These discussions tend to dehumanize migrants, make them seem like a threat, or delegitimize their humanity.
In the workplace, migrant workers who face racial discrimination have two options: action under company policy, or under the Racial Discrimination Act. Several companies do not have grievance procedures relating specifically to racism, but rather focus more broadly on workplace bullying and harassment.
Migrant workers who are left to take action under the Racial Discrimination Act, for say, verbal racial abuse in the workplace, generally find recourse under section 18C.
Section 18C Currently protects people against speech likely to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” them on the basis of their race. This makes it unlawful for someone to yell a racial slur at you on the bus, or unlawful for newspapers to publish blatantly racist, offensive materials. In the workplace, it also makes it unlawful for employers to verbally abuse employees, in public spaces.
Yet the government’s proposed abolition of section 18C would leave migrant workers without protection if and when they face racism in the workplace. The government is seriously considering making these changes despite the fact that 80% of Australians support the current laws against racial vilification.
It is more important now than ever before that companies adopt internal company procedures regarding racism in the workplace. Company policy, and in particular grievance procedures, can give employees a place to go for help when facing sustained verbal abuse, or racial discrimination. Remember that the general wellbeing of employees is linked to their productivity, which is directly linked to your bottom line. It is important, both as a moral and business imperative, that businesses help out employees suffering from racial discrimination in the workplace.
Businesses looking to do something to stop racism should contact All Together Now today.
Together, we can discuss a partnership to prevent racism. We’ve already worked with several organizations to assist them in erasing racism in the workplace.