A groundbreaking study has found people from non-English speaking countries and religious minorities are no more likely to think they had been discriminated against by their bosses than other workers.

The University of Melbourne study found that 854,000 Australians felt their boss had discriminated against them because of their gender, age, ethnicity, religion or parenting responsibilities. Age discrimination was the most significant complaint, followed by women complaining of gender discrimination.

Approximately 8.5 percent of job applicants and 7.5 percent of employees report being discriminated against in the preceding two years, most commonly on the basis of their age.

Researcher Roger Wilkins said about 480,000 workers suspected their employer had discriminated against them within the past two years because of their age, while 270,000 Australian workers felt they had been discriminated against because of their gender.

“Many Australians feel they’ve been treated unfairly in the workplace,” he said. “Age discrimination is the most common experience, which perhaps shouldn’t be surprising given Australia’s ageing population.”

The report concludes that job discrimination on the basis of gender, age, ethnicity, religion or parenting responsibilities is, at least as perceived by potential victims of discrimination, “a significant feature of the Australian labour market”. Age discrimination was also widely reported among jobseekers, with 300,000 older Australians feeling unfairly judged. Perceived discrimination is higher among indigenous Australians; immigrants, especially those from non-Asian, non-English-speaking countries; and followers of non-Christian religions. “However, this seems to be because they are in other highly discriminated against categories including age, education, income, and not because of their ethnic or religious identity.”

Dr Wilkins said the most surprising finding was that “once differences in other characteristics, such as income and education, are taken into account, immigrants from non-English-speaking countries and religious minorities are no more likely to think they had been discriminated against.

“In fact, immigrants from Asian countries are significantly less likely than native-born Australians to think they have been discriminated against in the course of their employment.

“It certainly paints a positive picture of the Australian labour market as non-discriminatory when it comes to ethnic and religious identity, especially when contrasted with evidence on perceived discrimination in the US, UK and Canada.”

Women with young children are more likely to report discrimination in the workplace, but not when applying for jobs. And both men and women are more likely to believe they have been discriminated against in their job if more than 70 percent of employees in their industry are of the opposite sex.

The findings are based on the experiences of roughly 13,000 respondents to the Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) longitudinal survey of Australian households. The report, Perceived Job Discrimination in Australia, has been published by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Social and Economic Research.

The Federal Government’s draft Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill aimed to consolidate five bodies of anti-discrimination law, including those relating to age and gender discrimination. The draft Bill has been temporarily withdrawn for further consideration after an outcry around the freedom of speech implications surrounding some of its provisions.

iHR advises that, despite the delay in the Government’s Bill, there is extensive Federal and State anti-discrimination legislation that employers need to be aware of. iHR Australia conducts independent workplace investigations into claims of workplace discrimination harassment and bullying and also offers Workplace Investigation Officer training for internal investigators alongside our EEO anti-bullying, harassment and discrimination training.

Recent articles

Balance of probailities

Understanding Balance of Probabilities in Workplace Investigations

Author - John Boardman, Director Workplace Relations The more serious the allegation, the more serious consideration should be given by...
Remote or isolated work

The impact of poor support on remote and isolated workers: Summary of the webinar

Remote and isolated work encompasses more than just working in a home setting; it taps into the narrative of employees...
Reasonable management.

What isn’t Workplace Bullying? Reasonable Management.

Article updated on 15 April 2024 [Originally published in 2017] Workplace bullying is an organisational problem. It can happen in...
Trauma informed investigations

Trauma-informed workplace investigations: Prioritising ‘care’ over rigid processes

Interviewee: Kirsten Hartmann, Senior Workplace Relations Adviser/Workplace Investigator In August 2023, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) released four guiding...