Australia tackles discrimination against staff in religious schools

Report recommends reforms to 'narrow' cases where staff treated differently on religious grounds

Australia tackles discrimination against staff in religious schools

The Anthony Albanese government has reached out to the Coalition party in a bid to get bipartisan support for proposed legislations aimed at resolving the issue of employee discrimination in religious schools.

Albanese told reporters last week that they have shared two pieces of legislation, including one that aims to amend the country's Sex Discrimination Act (SDA) and another that introduces legislation about religious discrimination.

Other details on the proposed legislations remain secret as the Albanese government works it out with the Coalition.

"We have reached out," Albanese said. "I've made it very clear from very early on in this process, in the meetings that I've had with faith leaders and others, that this… needs bipartisan support, because I don't want this to be an issue in which we go through the old culture wars."

Discrimination against staff

Australia has been grappling with the issue of reported discrimination against employees and students in religious educational institutions.

These institutions have been permitted under Federal law to discriminate against students and staff on certain grounds, including sexual orientation, pregnancy, or marital status.

But this contradicts the SDA, where no school is permitted to discriminate against students or staff. Many states and territories also have anti-discrimination laws that prevent religious educational institutions from discriminating against staff and students.

Recommended reforms against discrimination

The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) was previously tasked to recommend reforms to ensure that the Commonwealth's anti-discrimination laws reflect the government's commitment that no religious institution must not discriminate against a student or staff member on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, among other grounds.

In its report tabled late March, the ALRC recommended various reforms to the SDA and the Fair Work Act, as well as suggested provisions for a potential Religious Discrimination Act.

These reforms aim to "narrow the circumstances" that would make it lawful to discriminate against staff or students at religious educational institutions, according to the report.

"The overall effect of Recommendation 7 would be to narrow the circumstances in which it would be lawful to treat staff (particularly existing employees) at religious educational institutions differently on the ground of religion; to ensure that differential treatment on the basis of religion does not allow for discrimination on SDA grounds; and to allow religious educational institutions to give preference to persons of the same religion in selecting employees, in order to build and maintain a community of faith," the ALRC said in its report.

Albanese acknowledged the contents of the report but said they will "respond in due time."

Discrimination 'endemic' in religious schools

Meanwhile, Equality Australia welcomed Albanese's "broader approach" on working with the Coalition to secure reforms protecting LGBTQ+ students and staff in religious schools.

"Legal protections for students and teachers are too important to play politics with and we would urge all parliamentarians to engage with the government in good faith, and for the government to stay true to its election promise," said Equality Australia Legal Director Ghassan Kassisieh in a statement.

A previous report from the organisation revealed that discrimination is "endemic" in religious schools around Australia.

"These schools rely on millions of dollars of public funding and yet they are legally allowed to fire a gay teacher or deny them a promotion while students can be expelled, told they are going to hell or held back from leadership roles," said Equality Australia CEO Anna Brown.

"The prime minister has signalled his willingness to work across the chamber and we are calling on all parliamentarians to act now to ensure our laws reflect modern community expectations."

Recent articles & video

New business owner dismisses worker via phone call: Is it unfair dismissal?

Fired for 'disrespecting' co-workers? Chef cries unfair dismissal after walkout

Unemployment rate sees uptick to 3.8% in March: ABS

JCU confirms underpaying casual employees

Most Read Articles

WA introduces changes to long service leave regulations for local government workers

Remote worker speaks out about 'unfair dismissal'

Firm offers more leave days for in-office workers: reports