'No Indians or Asians': Coles censured for racist job ad

by Robin Christie03 Sep 2012

Could your contractors be breaking the law and creating severe reputational damage in your company’s name? Take heed from this ill-advised job advert.

Placed on the Gumtree website, the recruitment advert posted last week for a cleaning position at a Coles supermarket in Hobart read:

“Positions available for experienced cleaners in supermarket cleaning for night and/or morning work. Must be able to work unsupervised, to a timelimit [sic] and have an eye for detail. Must have own transport + license and abn (australian business number). Store requires no indians or asians please. MUST SPEAK ENGLISH.”

The supermarket in question was a branch of Coles in Rosny and, while the job as has since been removed, the supermarket chain had to go into damage limitation mode. “The ad was placed without Coles’ knowledge and we were extremely concerned to learn of the ad and its contents,” a Coles spokesman said in a statement. “Coles is a proud, equal-opportunity employer and at no time have we ever issued the directives contained in this ad. We have made these points in no uncertain terms to the cleaning contractors in question.”

The advertisement was placed by a subcontractor who in turn worked for the cleaning contractor employed by the store. The subcontractor has since been fired by the cleaning contractor, and the contractor itself will have its staff retrained by Coles to make sure it understands and follows Coles’ equal opportunity and non-discriminatory employment policies.

In terms of the legal implications, the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Robin said that the two clear courses of legal action were to pursue the person who placed the advert, as well as Gumtree for allowing it to be published. But Coles, too, may be targeted by legal action.

“There are three potential liabilities," Commissioner Robin said. "There’s the contactor, and there’s Gumtree – because the Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tasmania) says the person must not publish or display, or cause or commit to be published or displayed, any sign notice or advertising matter that promotes expresses or depicts discrimination or prohibited conduct.

“There is a question, although I suspect it’s a fairly remote possibility, in relation to Coles. The Act has a provision that says an organisation is to take reasonable steps to ensure that no members, officers employees or agents engage in discrimination or prohibited conduct.

“If an organisation doesn’t comply with the section, it’s liable for any contravention of the Act committed by members, officers employees or agents. So the question that I will probably be asking Coles is: what steps do they take to ensure agents, such as contractors, don’t engage in discrimination or prohibited conduct.”

The answer to that question, explained Banks, will determine “whether there’s a question in relation to Coles having any liability”.   

Of course, this is not just an issue that affects organisations with agents that act in Tasmania. Banks pointed out that there are similar provisions in anti-discrimination law in each state and territory.


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