1 Zulujind

Racial Discrimination In The Workplace Case Study

1 November 2001

Real life Tales of Racial Discrimination
Commissioner calls on Indigenous People to Use Race Discrimination Laws

Acting Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr William Jonas today called on Indigenous people to use racial discrimination laws if they feel they are being unfairly treated for being an Aborigine or a Torres Strait Islander. As part of a campaign about the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's complaints services, Dr Jonas highlighted some complaints made to the Commission.

The Commission collects information about complaints under the Racial Discrimination Act and other anti-discrimination laws. The case studies to follow are complaints of racial discrimination from Indigenous people. They are actual cases but personal details that might identify the complainant or the respondent have been deleted for privacy reasons.

Under the Racial Discrimination Act it is unlawful to discriminate against some-one because of their race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin. The Act also prohibits offensive behaviour based on racial hatred. Most race discrimination complaints relate to employment, the provision of goods and services and racial vilification.

Case Study 1: Racial vilification in radio broadcast

The Aboriginal complainant lodged a complaint against a local radio station. The complainant alleged that reading out an anonymous facsimile titled "Australian Apology to Aborigines" was racially offensive to her, her family and the Indigenous Community generally.

The management of the radio station acknowledged that the content of the facsimile was inappropriate and offensive to Indigenous Australians and that the announcer had made a mistake in reading it on air. The radio station advised it had taken action against the announcer and had aired an apology on four separate occasions. The complainant said she was satisfied with this action. As part of the resolution of the complaint, the station agreed to send a written apology, to teach on-air staff about racial vilification and to meet Indigenous community leaders.

Case Study 2: Alleged racial vilification and discrimination by a school teacher

Several Aboriginal students claimed that during an Aboriginal Studies lesson the teacher asked the class to provide a list of words to describe Aboriginal people. They said when a student said "dirty", "smelly" the teacher said they were good words and wrote them on the blackboard, but when some-one suggested "beautiful" the teacher did not write this word.

The teacher denied offensive words were used apart from "dirty" - a word he said was suggested by an intellectually disabled student. If he had commented "that is a good word" it would only have been to acknowledge that the word could be linked with perceptions of Aboriginal people, he said. The teacher's employer denied the teacher's behaviour was inappropriate.

The complaints were settled by conciliation. The employer agreed to provide private tutoring to students; a community room at the school for Aboriginal families which could be used as a meeting place for the principal, teachers and families; a schoolbook and clothing allowance for each of the students; access to career guide programs for the students and cultural awareness training for staff. The employer also agreed to review school policy and practice relating to Aboriginal students and review racial discrimination policies.

Case Study 3: Alleged racial discrimination by a real estate agency

The Aboriginal complainant alleged that he and his family were discriminated against because of his race while renting a house from a real estate agency. He alleged that the agency proprietor, referring to his non-Aboriginal partner, had said "Do you prefer white women?" and referred to their relationship as a "mixed relationship". He also said the proprietor had called him "black" and "coloured man". The proprietor also allegedly said she would have to tell the landlord about the man's Aboriginality. The complainant claimed that race was a reason the family was later evicted.

The proprietor denied she made comments about the complainant's skin colour, Aboriginality and relationship. She denied race was a reason the lease was not renewed and said the property was always only going to be leased for six months before being offered for sale. The matter was settled through conciliation for $1000.

Comments by Race Discrimination Commissioner

"It is distressing to find out that some people can act with such callous disregard for Indigenous people," said Dr Jonas. "Not only does the Commission come across cases of racial vilification, but also cases where people have acted on their personal prejudice and discriminated against Indigenous Australians in such a way as to deny them housing, jobs and services. This is clearly not acceptable and Indigenous people should speak out when this occurs. They should also contact HREOC to check what they may be able to do in terms of lodging a formal complaint."

Information about the complaints process is available from the Commission's web page at: http://www.humanrights.gov.au/complaints_help/index.html
by phoning the Complaints Infoline: 1300 656 419 (TTY: 1800 620 241)
or by emailing: complaintsinfo@humanrights.gov.au

Media contact: Janine MacDonald (02) 9284 9880 or 0408 469 347.

Last updated 2 December 2001.

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Voices of Australia - Case study 2

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Racial discrimination and employment

Complaint filed: Alleged race discrimination and racial hatred in employment

The complainant, who was originally from Serbia, was employed as a van driver for an Australian Government statutory authority. The complainant alleged that his supervisor made offensive comments about Serbians to him and to others while he was present. For example, the supervisor is alleged to have made comments such as "He is a Serb and Serbs make ethnic cleansing, He might kill you". The complainant claimed that the company was slow to investigate his internal complaint and that he was victimised for lodging the complaint. A co-worker provided evidence to support the complainant's claim that offensive comments about Serbs had been made in the workplace.

The individual respondent denied making the alleged comments but agreed that he had asked questions about the political situation in Serbia. The individual respondent said that he was an immigrant himself and would not make offensive comments about other people's racial background. While the company indicated that it had extensive EEO and harassment policies, it noted that it had no record of the individual respondent having received training in EEO issues.

The complaint was resolved at a conciliation conference. The company had already transferred the complainant to a job he enjoyed where he no longer had contact with the individual respondent. The respondent company assured the complainant that his career had not been compromised in any way and that steps would be taken to ensure the confidentiality of his complaints. The company also provided the complainant with acknowledgement of the distress he had suffered.

  1. Why was the complaint relevant under federal legislation?
  2. Whose responsibility is it to provide a harassment free workplace?
  3. Do you think that equal employment opportunity training would benefit the supervisor in this case? What type of things would he/she learn?
  4. Should individuals be forced to take responsibility for their actions?
  5. Have you or your friends been in any similar situations?

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