Past issues

Equal Opportunity Commissioner's e-bulletin January 2016

by Sarah Johnston | Jan 31, 2016

 

January 2016


The Equal Opportunity Commission welcomes new Acting Commissioner

Jenni Perkins was appointed Acting Commissioner for Equal Opportunity in WA on 4 January 2016.

Ms Perkins joins the Equal Opportunity Commission following her two-year appointment as Acting Commissioner for Children and Young People in WA from December 2013 until November 2015.

As Commissioner for Children and Young People she had a statutory responsibility to monitor, promote and advocate for the well being of the more than 575,000 children and young people under the age of 18 in Western Australia.  

Ms Perkins lead statewide consultations with over 1200 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people, culminating in the tabling in Parliament of the landmark report ‘Listen to Us’, bringing the views of children and young people directly to Parliament and the wider WA community to inform and improve policy and service delivery.

Ms Perkins has over 25 years’ experience in social policy and community development across the not-for-profit sector and local and state government.

She has a degree in social work and a masters in public policy, and held senior positions with the Disability Services Commission before becoming director general of the Department for Communities in 2010.




Acting Commissioner for Equal Opportunity
Jenni Perkins

Re-imagining Australia on Human Rights Day

The Equal Opportunity Commission celebrated International Human Rights Day on 10 December 2015 with a Q&A event at the Perth State Library.

Chaired by award-winning journalist Victoria Laurie, the event titled Re-imagining Australia was co-hosted by Curtin University's Centre for Human Rights Education and the Equal Opportunity Commission.

Acting Commissioner for Equal Opportunity at the time of the event, Allan Macdonald, said the Q&A format provoked an in-depth discussion among the panel of human rights experts about the country's key human rights issues.

"A lot of discussion focused on race discrimination with a special emphasis on the discrimination suffered by refugees, Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders, people with disability and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex community," he said.

Panellist and Commission Community Education Officer Stephen Goodall, who is also an Aboriginal man, spoke about the appalling conditions many young Aboriginal people are living in because of racial inequality in Australian society. 

"Through my work providing community education and outreach I've come across a lot of tragic stories when it comes to my people; however, one that sticks in my mind is of a 13 year-old girl who was exposed to all sorts of drug and sexual abuse.

"The system had completely failed her and whenever I think of her I cannot say things have got better in this country," he said. 

This was supported by fellow panellist and Professor of Cultural Studies at Curtin University Suvendrini Perera, who said Australia's colonial past played a significant role in establishing systems that exacerbated racial inequality.

"(Australia) is a settler colony and this is the baseline that it works by."

"(Aboriginal) people die in state custody because of these racialised systems of the state," she said.

Disability advocate and panellist Samantha Connor said ordinary Australians had the power to make a difference to the attitudes of the wider community.  This sentiment was echoed by the other panellists, who encouraged the audience to speak up against discrimination and harassment.

Panellist and International humanitarian Rabia Siddique asked the audience to confront the 'arrogant ignorance' of people who thought it was their right to speak in an appalling way.

"We need to stand up and speak out, write articles and letters to the editor."

"As parents it is our responsibility to teach our children tolerance and kindness," she said. 

e-bulletin small
 From left: Chair Victoria Laurie, Rabia Siddique, Prof Suvendrini Perera, Stephen Goodall, Allan Macdonald, Prof Baden Offord, Prof Suvendrini Perera and Samatha Connor



 


Sexual harassment. Do you know where the line is?

Now that the silly season is over, we have the time to reflect on whether the festivities can also bring some unwanted issues regarding sexual harassment in the workplace.

Recent media reports have shown that sexual harassment can provoke negative attention and cost employers dearly.  It also affects staff morale at a time of year when an organisation should be getting motivated for a busy year ahead.

Over the last three years, there have been 143 workplace sexual harassment complaints lodged at the Commission, mostly by young women working in the private sector.

In the 2014-15 reporting year all workplace sexual harassment complaints were lodged by women and 88% of respondents were classified as in the private sector.

Seventy five per cent of those complainants were aged between 20 and 39 years.

In some instances, a complaint could have been avoided by educating staff about the line between being friendly and sexual harassment.

The Equal Opportunity Commission is running two Know where the line is courses in the first half of the year to help your organisation avoid workplace sexual harassment:

  • Thursday 10 March from 9.30am to 11.30am and
  • Tuesday 21 June from 1pm to 3pm.

Both courses will be held at the Equal Opportunity Commission Seminar Room on Level 2/141 St Georges Terrace Perth.

Find out more about these sessions and register online  or contact the Commission on (08) 9216 3900 or at eoc@eoc.wa.gov.au.

 Poster IWD 2015 e-bulletin


Conciliation: the why and the how

The Commission receives about 600 complaints a year, many of which are resolved through the Commission’s conciliation process. This is a unique process that is both confidential and impartial and which aims to enable the parties to work towards solving allegations of discrimination.

Why

The Commission does not have the power to determine issues or make orders as in a court.  It is required under the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 to investigate and attempt to conciliate allegations of discrimination it receives on the grounds and areas set out in the Act.

The conciliation process enables people to:

  • talk about the complaint and look for ways to resolve it
  • listen to the other side's version of events
  • discuss issues openly, as nothing said within the conciliation conference can be used in court
  • explore solutions without the restriction of set limits
  • reach an agreement without an admission of liability

How

Who attends a conciliation conference?

Usually this is decided by the conciliator and will include:

  • the person who lodged the complaint (the complainant) and they can bring along a support person, someone who is not involved in the complaint; and
  • the person the complaint is about (the respondent)  and this could be either an individual or a company representative, dependant on who is the named respondent.  But whoever it is, it must be someone who has the authority to agree on a resolution.

If interpreters, or other assistance is needed, this will be arranged by the conciliator.

The conciliator

The conciliator is neutral in this process, they do not represent the interests of either party.  The role of the conciliator is to:

  • remain impartial
  • encourage open discussion
  • keep the meeting on track
  • if necessary explain the Equal Opportunity Act 1984
  • help prepare the conciliation agreement for sign off by the parties

 The conciliator does not:

  • take sides
  • decide who is telling the truth
  • decide if the law has been broken
  • try to impose an outcome on either party, or try and force any form of agreement

How a complaint may resolve at conciliation

No two conciliation conferences are ever the same, so the outcomes will also vary and will depend on the individual complaint and the parties involved.  Outcomes can include:

  • an apology from the respondent is one of the most commonly recorded outcomes for a conciliated complaint.
  • there may be some form of compensation for financial loss or injury to feelings 
  • a satisfactory explanation is received from the respondent
  • the implementation of equal opportunity training programs 
  • an undertaking to cease whatever action was the subject of the complaint
  • the introduction of changes to, or modifications of, discriminatory policies and practices
  • the provision of a service that had previously been refused by the respondent, for example entry to an educational course or access to a shop or service

The complaint process is an impartial one that is set up to try and achieve an outcome that satisfies both the complainant and respondent before it becomes a lengthy, and sometimes costly, legal process before the State Administrative Tribunal. 

The Commission's conciliation officers are accredited mediators, and while it’s not always possible to find a resolution, parties to a dispute often say the process of bringing the parties together for a frank and confidential discussion can be very helpful for both sides. 

All matters that can’t be resolved through conciliation are reviewed by the Commissioner who then decides if the complaint should be referred to the State Administrative Tribunal, or dismissed if the evidence provided doesn't support the allegation.

If the Commissioner refers the complaint to the Tribunal, then legal representation can be provided to the complainant free of charge. 

If the complaint has been dismissed the complainant still has the right to require the Commissioner to refer the complaint to the State Administrative Tribunal. If this happens the Commission provides the complainant with no legal support or assistance at the Tribunal.


 A conciliation conference at the Commission
 

Preparing for a conciliation

READ some case studies on our website to see what happened in similar cases
PLAN what you want to talk about at the conference and make some notes to bring with you
CONSIDER what the other party might say and be ready with answers
SEEK legal, financial or other advice, if required
TALK to the conciliator if you have any special needs or want an interpreter
ASK the conciliator if you want a support person or advocate to attend
DISCUSS with the conciliator any questions and your ideas about resolution
GIVE the conciliator any documents you want to talk about at the conference


 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

What's coming up at the Commission

 
 
 
  • The Equal Opportunity Commission will be on holding an information stall at Pride Fair Day on 7 February in Hyde Park again this year. Come along to say hello and have a chat to a Commission staff member about the services we provide at the Commission. 
  • If you would like to address systemic discrimination in your goods and services the Fair go for your clients workshop will be held at the Commission, Level 2/141 St Georges Terrace, on Wednesday 17 February and Wednesday 18 May from 9.30am to 1pm with morning tea provided. For more information please contact the Commission on (08) 9216 3900 or eoc@eoc.wa.gov.au.