Religious minorities face workplace discrimination

Alongside the current debate in Australia regarding the proposed changes to the Race Discrimination Act, news from our neighbours shows that discrimination concerns are not without basis.


According to research conducted by New Zealand’s Auckland University of Technology (AUT), religious minorities are facing a significant risk of discrimination in the workplace. Reported by the New Zealand Herald on 23 May, the AUT study found employers are somewhat willing to hire Hindus and Buddhists, among other religions, but will hesitate before offering employment to a Muslim.

The survey, which collected opinions and experiences from more than 200 individuals, revealed that some Muslim employees were facing serious workplace harassment and bullying. Some workers claimed to have been subject to racial comments that linked them to terror attacks. Study author, AUT Professor of Diversity Edwina Pio, explained that migrants and international residents struggled to engage in positive employment outcomes, due to employers and employees holding misinformed beliefs about their religion.

“Contradictions and tensions are exacerbated by ideological discourse, radical aspects of some religion, and a narrow understanding of socio-historical antecedents,” she told the New Zealand Herald. Race Relations Commissioner Susan Devoy further commented, “Negative stereotyped perceptions some people have about Muslim people ignore the outstanding contribution Muslim people have made and continue to make in our communities.”

In Australia, Attorney-General George Brandis’ proposed amendments to Section 18c of the Race Discrimination Act have caused considerable controversy and sparked a protest March in Sydney over the weekend.

Discrimination in the workplace is currently dealt with under the Fair Work Act 2009. Employers in Australia should be aware that under the Act they must provide all employees with a safe working environment. This includes protecting mental health and wellbeing by taking reasonable steps to prevent harassment and discrimination, such as ensuring effective bullying and harassment policies are in place.


Equal employment opportunity training is also important, in particular to address issues such as subconscious or subtle discrimination during the recruitment process. Providing workplace harassment and bullying training can also help reduce the risk of racial discrimination and vilification, as well as give individuals the confidence they need to address any discrimination they receive.