The Commission operates an enquiry service from 9.00am – 4.00pm each weekday. This is staffed by officers of the Commission on a roster basis.
The Commission receives a diverse range of enquiries regarding alleged discrimination. Many enquirers describe situations which do not necessarily constitute unlawful discrimination as defined by the Act, and Commission officers attempt to direct the enquirer t o the correct agency to deal with their issue.
Where allegations of unlawful discrimination are accepted by the Commissioner as complaints under the Act, delegated conciliation officers investigate and attempt to conciliate those complaints on behalf of the Commissioner.
Answering enquiries from the community
The Commission received 1745 enquiries during 2015-16, from people who visited the Commission office in person, rang the enquiries line or sent in a written enquiry by fax, email, via the website or letter.
Nearly three-quarters of all enquiries (70.5%) are received by telephone, of the written enquiries nearly 81.9% are now received via the website or email. This is likely to continue to increase, demonstrating the importance of providing an accessible online service.
Nature of enquiries
Of the enquiries received in 2015-16, 65.2% were about matters that fell within the jurisdiction of the Act. If an enquiry was not within the jurisdiction of the Act, a referral to an appropriate state or federal agency or non-government organisation was provided where possible.
The grounds of alleged discrimination which were cited by enquirers correlate closely with complaints handled by the Commission. Enquiries about age discrimination have for two years been in the top third of most common enquiries.
Enquiries about bullying, while not a ground under the Act, was the fifth most common enquiry, and over 92.2% of bullying enquiries related to the workplace. The adoption of bullying as a ground of discrimination under the Act was one of the recommendations in the Commission’s submission to the 2007 Review of the Act.
The areas of discrimination identified by enquirers in 2015-16 reflected the pattern of previous years. More than half of the enquiries handled (55.5%) related to employment. Enquiries in the area of goods, services and facilities were the next largest group (13.9%).
Most enquiries in 2015-16 were from individuals (84.0%) and related to allegations of discrimination or unfair treatment. Half of all enquiries were made by women, 38.4% of enquiries were from men, and the remainder from organisations and groups.
Other enquiries were from:
- private enterprise (4.8%)
- local, state and federal government (4.5%)
- non-government organisations (2.2%).
If a person alleges they have been discriminated against on one or more grounds, and in one of the areas under the Act, then those allegations will be accepted by the Commission as a complaint, irrespective of how much supporting information is provided. Should the Commissioner, after conducting an investigation, determine the complaint is to be dismissed under section 89 of the Act as lacking in substance, or because it is misconceived, then the Complainant has the right to have the matter referred to the State Administrative Tribunal (Tribunal) for determination.
Where a potential complainant has not clearly identified a ground and/or area of complaint, they are supplied with information about what constitutes unlawful discrimination under the Act and asked to further clarify their complaint.
Numbers of complaints
In 2015-16 there were 439 new complaints received by the Commission. This is a lower number of complaints received than in the past three years. Factors influencing the lower number of received complaints include the recent economic downturn which has coincided with a reduction of complaints from traditional sectors such as mining, where complaints declined 54.9% from 51 in 2014-15 to 23 this financial year, and in retail, down 39.7% from 78 complaints to 47. In addition, the absence of the Commissioner for 10 months due to ill health resulted in a reduction in public speaking engagements, a lower media presence, and fewer promotional activities being held, which have previously resulted in complaints being lodged.
Nature of complaints
There are 18 grounds of unlawful discrimination and 15 areas of public life under which a complaint can be lodged. Some grounds do not apply in some areas and both have to be present in order for a complaint to be accepted under the Act.
Of the various grounds under the Act, impairment discrimination complaints have been consistently the highest for many years, followed by race. This year 23.2% of complaints lodged related to impairment. Race complaints was second (16.9%), and surprisingly sexual harassment (12.3%) replaced age (5.9%) as the third most common ground of alleged discrimination. Age had been trending as the third most common ground, but this may have been affected by the economic downturn with fewer advertised vacancies.
Employment has always been the predominant area of public life in which unlawful discrimination is alleged. In 2015-16, 66.1% of complaints related to employment. The figure 1 shows the six grounds most cited in employment complaints.
A significant change from previous years has been a notable increase in the number of sexual harassment complaints, most of which were in the area of employment, and 85.7% were in the private sector. Of the 54 sexual harassment complaints, 45 were lodged by women and nine by men.
Given the current public debate on marriage equality, it is worth noting that in this financial year a total of 12 sexual orientation complaints were lodged. This can be compared to the previous reporting period where no sexual orientation complaints were lodged in the previous financial year. Some of these complaints involved workers objecting to co workers making offensive or derogatory comments about their sexual orientation.
Lodgement of complaints
The Act requires complaints to be in writing and can be lodged by email, fax, in person, post or via the web. Lodgement of complaints on the web and by email continues to increase with 69.9% submitted online this year, compared to 60% in 2014-15 and to 56.4% in 2013-14.
Of the 69.9% of complaints lodged directly on the Commission website, most (60.8%) lodged directly on the Commission’s online complaint form, and a smaller percentage (9.1%) via email.
The Act specifies that a complaint can be finalised in one of a number of ways:
- conciliated when both complainant and respondent achieve mutually agreed outcome or outcomes
- withdrawn by the complainant at any time. This can occur if the complainant is satisfied with the initial response from the respondent, or has, with assistance from the conciliation officer, achieved a satisfactory resolution of their complaint
- lapsed by the Commissioner if there is no response to attempts by the Commission's conciliation officer to contact the complainant
- referred to the Tribunal by the Commissioner if it cannot be conciliated and the Commissioner believes there is an arguable case or
- dismissed by the Commissioner if it is lacking in substance, vexatious, misconceived, frivolous or referral to the Tribunal at the request of the complainant after dismissal.
Complaints resolved in record times
The Commission has continued to enhance procedures which work towards reducing the time taken to finalise complaints, without compromising the ability of all participants to be treated fairly and achieve satisfactory outcomes.
In 2015-16 complaint handlers have met and exceeded agreed performance related complaint handling targets in record times, with 97.5% of complaints resolved in under six months and the few remaining complaints finalised in under one year. This compares to 2012-13 where 89.1% of complaints were resolved in under six months, or 2013-14 where 91.7% were resolved in under six months. The focus on reducing the time taken to finalise complaints was put in place following feedback from some complainants and respondents that finalising complaints in a timely manner can contribute to a mutually agreed resolution of complaints, and allow participants to get on with their lives.
In addition, increased contact with complainants and respondent via e-mail has also helped achieve easier and immediate contact, enabling faster processing of complaints.
Links to further information about enquiries and complaints received:
- About complainants and respondents
- Examples of what enquiries were about
- Examples of what complaints were about
- Complaints referred to the State Administrative Tribunal
- Examples of legal matters