Is workplace diversity and inclusion under threat?

'Our overarching concern is that these bills will limit workplace inclusion and be complex for businesses to manage'

Is workplace diversity and inclusion under threat?

Diversity Council Australia (DCA) has outlined its concerns that the second draft of the Australian Government’s religious discrimination bills could stop Australian businesses fostering inclusive cultures and will be difficult for workplaces to manage.

DCA’s CEO, Lisa Annese, explained that while the bills had been amended following consultation, the updates don’t address DCA’s concerns about how the legislation would affect Australian businesses, and in some ways would actually make things more difficult for workplaces.

“While we note that some changes were made to the original draft bills, we do not believe that these changes address the overarching concerns DCA raised about how the proposals would affect Australian organisations,” said Annese.

“Our membership represents about 15% of the Australian labour market. We have a wealth of experience providing advice to our members on the business benefits of diversity and inclusion, and our overarching concern is that these bills will limit workplace inclusion and be complex for businesses to manage.

“For example, the proposed employer conduct rules, which will make it harder for employers to create inclusive cultures, are still in the second draft.”

Annese added that while the definition of ‘work’ has been updated, this doesn’t address the “substantive problem” that the conduct rules could impair organisational efforts to implement diversity and inclusion policies and continue to make it difficult for large employers to promote an inclusive culture.

“What’s more, by expanding the definition of religious bodies, the new version would allow more service providers and organisations to discriminate, which is not something that DCA members support,” she said.

“DCA wants to see individuals being protected from discrimination and harassment because of their religious belief and we proactively support our members in creating workplaces where religious belief is afforded the same dignity and respect as other attributes of a person’s identity.”

Annese said they cannot support the draft exposure legislation in its current form.

“We would ask the Government to continue consulting with relevant stakeholders,” she said.

“A standard discrimination bill, designed along the same lines of existing Australian laws, could protect people of faith and without faith, without taking away existing protections or introducing complex and untested rules, that will be difficult for business to manage.”

Key issues raised in DCA’s submission:

  • DCA supports protection from discrimination, but by overriding other anti-discrimination laws the second exposure draft continues to privilege religious interests over other attributes.
  • The second exposure draft would further expand discrimination against LGBTIQ+ people, and DCA members do not support new laws that would expand discrimination against LGBTIQ+ people.
  • The proposed Employer Conduct Rules will continue to make it difficult for employers to promote an inclusive culture. Businesses could face legal challenges if they tried to enforce workplace diversity and inclusion policies, and will find it difficult to protect employees from harassment and discrimination.
  • Under the second exposure draft, prejudicial comments are judged by whether they could be considered to be in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of that religion, rather than the impact on the person experiencing those comments.
  • The ‘any person of the same religion’ test could provide special protection to much more extreme and unorthodox beliefs. It would mean that just one other person has to agree that something is considered a religious doctrine, tenet, belief or teaching. It doesn’t have to be an accepted form of belief.

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