Commissioner for Equal Opportunity e-bulletin

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November 2018

From the Commissioner - The power of conciliation

Last financial year the Commission conciliated 139 complaints of alleged unlawful discrimination and/or harassment.

Conciliated complaints outnumbered dismissed, withdrawn and lapsed complaints and only two percent of complaints were referred to the State Administrative Tribunal (the Tribunal).

It is pleasing to see as the conciliation process has the power to bring parties together and resolve the issues between them.

One complaint that brought parties together involved a gay couple seeking a service for their upcoming wedding celebration.

They approached a business providing the service they were seeking and were told by the business owner they could not provide the requested service because same sex marriages were against the business owner’s religious beliefs.

Through further investigation by the Commission’s conciliation officer, it became apparent both the complainant and respondent were members of the same tight-knit ethnic minority community in Perth, both parties were actively involved in different religious communities and the respondent – who had refused the gay couple a service – had a gay sibling whom the respondent described as being ‘my best friend’.

The respondent brought their gay sibling along to the conference as a support person and although the support person did not speak, throughout the conference both parties were able to focus on what they shared rather than their differences.

The conciliation officer said the conference was so successful because both parties really listened to each other.

The respondent listened to the complainant’s advice on how best to approach the situation next time, the language to use and why the complainant felt the respondent’s behaviour had been discriminatory.

The conciliation process creates a space for parties to communicate the reasons for their behaviour and if done openly, in a manner which aims to achieve shared outcomes, it can resolve highly sensitive issues before becoming an adversarial legal process in the Tribunal.

It is my belief that people within the Western Australian community have more in common with each other than they do differences, and sometimes all that is needed is to focus on what can be achieved together.

In the matter discussed above, the respondent gave the complainant an apology and a commitment to change their policy when providing customer service to LGBTI people and people from diverse backgrounds going forward.

 

 

Acting Commissioner for Equal Opportunity John Byrne

 Acting Commissioner Dr John Byrne

 


 

In two minds about mental health

On Tuesday 4 December the Commission will hold a hypothetical style panel discussion about mental health to mark International Human Rights Day and International Day of People with Disability at the State Library Lecture Theatre.

Panellists Mental Health Advocate and Consumer Consultant Andrew Markovs, Co- Director of This Working Life Julie Loveny, Relationship and Engagement Manager Mates in Construction Godfrey Baronie, Psychologist and Director of Vital Conversations Peta Slocombe and Crisis Support Services Manager at Lifeline WA David Kelly. will discuss a hypothetical scenario about twins, Jamie and Amy.

Jamie and Amy are employed at two local firms in the CBD, each working on career defining projects which will shape the city.

They have similar ambitions, similar pay packets and similar talent. They even share a love of sushi and a contempt for all things Kardashian.

But when the twins are both unexpectedly diagnosed with bi-polar disorder in the same week, it is the way their respective employers respond which really sets them apart.

To take part in this free event register here at trybooking.com.

 


 

Commissioners meet to talk workplace sexual harassment

On 9 October the Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins met with Acting WA Commissioner for Equal Opportunity John Byrne to talk about workplace sexual harassment from a complaints handling perspective.

Dr Byrne spoke about the nature and number of sexual harassment complaints the Equal Opportunity Commission had handled in the past few years.

“We have had anti-sexual harassment laws in place for the last 34 years, however it continues to be a problem for WA workplaces,” he said.

Following her meeting with Dr Byrne, Ms Jenkins held a confidential consultation in the Equal Opportunity Commission’s seminar room to discuss with industry representatives what they felt were the biggest issues around combatting workplace sexual harassment.

The consultations are a critical part of the Sex Discrimination Commissioner’s national inquiry into workplace sexual harassment and will inform the recommendations in the final report to be released in the second half of 2019. 

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Commissioners Kate Jenkins and John Byrne (right) with their teams

 


 

WA's Equal Opportunity Act up for review

 

Acting WA Equal Opportunity Commissioner Dr John Byrne has welcomed the news that the State Government plans to review WA’s outdated Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (the Act).

The review is to be conducted by the WA Law Reform Commission.

“In 2007 the Equal Opportunity Commission put together a report with recommendations for amending the Act, but since then very little has changed,” he said.

“When it was drafted in 1984, the Act was comparatively robust to other anti-discrimination acts around the country.

“However, over the years Western Australia has fallen behind the rest of the country when it comes to protecting its community from discrimination and harassment,” Dr Byrne said.

 


 

Commission proud to take part in pride

 On Saturday 3 November the Commission held a stall at Pride Fair Day.

Commission staff and Acting Commissioner Dr John Byrne spoke about discrimination and harassment to fair-goers, as well as giving them information about what the Commission does.

Dr Byrne said sexual orientation discrimination complaints had risen in the 2017-18 financial year, which he attributed in part to the same sex marriage debate.

“There was a lot of discussion at the fair about same sex marriage and how the debate had highlighted sexual orientation discrimination when providing goods and services, especially for same sex marriages.

“There were also discussions about religious conviction discrimination and how exceptions to the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (the Act) apply in some instances to protect religious conviction,” he said.

Dr Byrne said the State Government’s announcement to review the Act in the midst of a national debate about religious freedoms had piqued the interest of WA’s LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex) community.

“We are all very interested to find out the terms of reference for the review when the State Government announces it,” he said.

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Manager Commission Support Zarin Milambo and Business Systems Coordinator Kathryn Freeman

 


 

ACHRA discusses schools

 

The Australian Council of Human Rights Agencies (ACHRA) met in Adelaide on 18 and 19 October this year to discuss human rights and equal opportunity issues within each state and territory and around the country.

Schools and education were on the agenda at this meeting with disability equality in education, as well as school uniform choice being discussed.

ACHRA members discussed the need for more concerted action to prevent the unlawful exclusion of students with disability from school through seclusion, suspension or expulsion to manage behaviour.

Students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHA), Autism Spectrum Disorder, and those exhibiting behaviours of concern are most at risk and ACHRA called on all state and territory government and private schools to review their policies on suspension and expulsions to ensure they do not disproportionately affect students with disability.

ACHRA members have seen an increase in enquiries and complaints from girls, or parents on behalf of girls, who have been prevented from wearing shorts or trousers at school and told to wear skirts or dresses as a mandatory uniform requirement.

The Commission referred to a complaining regarding school uniforms in its 2017-18 Annual Report.

ACHRA noted while many schools nationwide have adopted uniform policies allowing choice for female students, others continue to discriminate on the basis of sex.

Age discrimination has also been a valid area of complaint, where younger female students have been allowed to wear pants, but senior students have not.

ACHRA members encouraged all government, private and faith-based schools to review school uniform policies to enable greater choice of formal and informal uniform options, including shorts and long pants, for girls.

To read the full report go to the Commission’s website.

ACHRA Group Photo May 2018 - Cropped
State, territory and federal commissioners at ACHRA

 


 

What's coming up

The Commission’s Training Calendar from July to December 2018 is now available. You can register for all Commission courses on the Community Education page.

 

14 November 2018                          Introduction to Equal Opportunity Law

27 & 28 November 2018                  Equity Grievance Officer Role (TBC subject to numbers)

4 December 2018                             In Two Minds – Strictly Hypothetical Event

Please contact us on 9216 3900 if you are interested in organisation specific training or for a rights-based session for your clients or community members.


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