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Workplace Inequalities

Oct 11, 2008 1607 Words

Every person has the right to be fairly treated in their daily lives and the workplace is no exception. Discrimination in the workforce has always been a well debated topic. Throughout history many different groups have faced inequalities in the workplace, and over time, with the changes in social views, different measures have been undertaken, by the different levels involved in employment, to eradicate these adversities. Unfortunately inequality during employment is still a major crisis for many people. This essay looks at three different groups facing difficulty in the workplace due too discrimination and the response by government, unions, employers and other groups to these inequalities. Pregnant women in the workforce have always been a delicate topic. With recent legislation changes and advances in ‘pregnancy in the workforce’ campaigns, the inequality faced by many women who fall pregnant while under employment has begun to change, however, many lobbyists believe that employers are still not doing enough to protect their employees rights during such a serious time in a women’s life. Teenagers’ entering the workforce has also become a serious topic. During such a pivotal time in a young teenagers life, with school and social activities, young people can often face inequalities in their employment and without prior knowledge of the workforce, can often be unknowingly subjected to mistreatment. On the other end of the timeline, aged workers are often subject to unfair treatment and ridicule from their employers and co-workers. In an increasingly aging country, Australia has had to bring age discrimination to the forefront of workplace reform. Although discrimination and inequalities in the workplace are constantly being discouraged and sought out, most people will feel mistreated in the workplace at some point in their working lives. The Australian Government, unions and employers are constantly working towards better equality for employees in the workforce. Many different initiatives have been put in place to stamp out workplace discrimination and these groups will continue to work towards better rights for workers.

Pregnancy is an incredibly important time for those involved. Women face a vast range of emotional stress when dealing with a pregnancy and many women have to continue working during much of their pregnancy to cope with the coming financial burden of raising a new born child. Around 80% of women in Australia are employed prior to the birth of their first child [1]. With the known risk of emotional stress on women’s pregnancy, limiting stress in the workplace is serious priority for employers. Unfortunately recent studies into the subject have found that “pregnancy-related workplace discrimination (in Australia) is disturbingly prevalent” [2]. A University of Melbourne study into the entitlements of workers during pregnancy and the psychological welfare of pregnant women in the workplace, found that, of the 165 employed pregnant women surveyed; Despite current legislation requiring all Australian employees to have access to unpaid maternity leave after 12 months of continuous employment, only 60% had the option. Only 46% had access to paid maternity leave, forcing others to rely on sick or annual leave or forego income after childbirth. Almost one in five women claimed pregnancy-related discrimination in the form of negative or offensive comments as well as being excluded from promotion or training by their employer [3]. Many groups are outraged at this unfair treatment for pregnant women during employment. Considering the severity of the occasion, a pregnant woman’s health and wellbeing should be of great concern to an employer. The government has sought to stem this trend of discrimination with current legislation protecting pregnant women from unfair treatment in the workforce. EOWA, the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency, is a government agency aimed at achieving equal opportunity for women in the workforce through the administration of the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999 [4]. Many lobbyists believe that all women should have access to paid maternity leave should they fall pregnant while under employment. While pregnant women continue to fight for better rights while in the workforce it is hoped that the government and employers will continue to act to stop these inequalities.

Seventeen year old Mitchell Bartlett, like many teenagers, is about to start a part time job at Woolworths. Mitchell is unsure about the full extent of his work conditions, he is however, happy with his wage of $15 an hour and that he has paid training. But he said that even if he didn’t like his conditions there was probably not much he could do about it. “I probably wouldn’t have the confidence to confront my boss,” he said. “When you’re young you’re at the bottom of the food chain, so you’re much easier to exploit. It often happens.” [5].This is a common feeling among teens entering the workforce. With no real insight into how employees operate or their rights, teens can be exploited into working more hours, with less pay and no penalty rates. With important school requirements teenagers are often made to work more hours than is recommended for school aged employees. This can have adverse affects on students school work at a very critical time in a teenager’s education. A survey by the Teachers Union found that students aged fifteen to eighteen are being forced to work more and more hours. The survey, of 300 students, found that 25% of students were on an Australian Workplace Agreement, while another 27% were on some form of employment contract but were unsure of exactly what it was. Although both government and employment groups claim that there are safe guards in place to protect student employees, teachers unions argue that not enough is being done to educate and protect young workers. The Teachers Federation has voted to improve the education of students on workplace information and they believe that the government and employers should follow their lead [6].

Discrimination towards older co-workers has become Australia’s most critical employment issue in the workplace [7]. Division between co-workers because of age differences has always been a problem with interoffice relations. However in resent years, and with Australia’s population ageing, discrimination towards senior employees has become more prevalent. The main issue of age discrimination in the workplace is the choice, by employers, to overlook older workers with the same, if not better, skills for younger employees. This inequality, although often not illegal, is an immoral decision to discriminate against older workers because of their age. In 2004, new legislation was introduced to help enforce remedies for age discrimination. The Age Discrimination Act (2004) covers aged workers in all areas of employment, job conditions, training, promotion and dismissal. The other issue of age discrimination is ridicule from fellow co-workers. Although any person can be subject to taunts from co-workers, the recent rise in complaints by age workers at the humiliation they have been subjected to by co-workers due to there age shows the extent that age discrimination has risen to. Fifty-seven year old Gerhardt had recently joined a company when two younger co-workers began harassing him. The two colleagues would place bets on Gerhardt’s age as well as ask each other loudly when they thought he would ‘cark it’. [8] This form of bullying is not uncommon in many workplaces and increasingly more aged workers are being subjected to it. The Australian Human Rights Commission is set up to help those who feel discriminated against. The AHRC helps to enforce the legislation protecting senior employees. The unions, however, still believe that one in three unemployed 45 year olds can’t get a job because employers feel they are too old, and that 60% of unemployed 55 year olds are apparently considered to old to work [9]. More needs to be done to help out our increasingly ageing populations while in the workforce; this is a prime example of inequality in the workplace and is a critical issue that needs to be addressed by government, unions, employers and workers.

The key groups dealing with employment relations are constantly looking for improvement in the area of discrimination in the workplace. The inequalities that many groups and individuals face on a daily basis are appalling. Every person deserves the right to earn a living in a safe and friendly environment. Although the debate as to how much can, and is, being done to stop these inequalities continues, it is certain that every person can help do their part in the workplace. Whether from and employer or fellow co-workers, if a person feels discriminated against in the workforce than that person should have an available means of support and justice. Government groups, such as the Australian Human Rights Movement and the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency, are helping those who have been discriminated against with education and action about employees rights in the workforce. New government legislation, like The Age Discrimination Act (2004), is increasing the lawful enforcement of discrimination against workers and helping to build equality in work environments. Through constant reevaluation and refinement, the government; along with employers and employees; can continue to make a difference in erasing workplace inequality and make employment a better place for everyone.

Age Discrimination the new Sexism. Human Resources (27 September, 2008). Australian Human Rights Commission website. Bakery Argument Sparks War of Words. (19 July, 2007). EOWA website.

Lack of Maternity Leave and Workplace Discrimination bad for Pregnant Women’s Psychological Health. Media release (12 November, 2007). Lateline (4 July, 2007). PM (26 February, 2004).

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