No: 3

Autumn 2002

What you need to know
about equal opportunity
and discrimination

All workers are entitled to an equitable workplace free of discrimination based on gender or any other personal characteristics irrelevant to the work of their position. This includes the right to a workplace free of sexual harassment and the concept of promotion on merit.

Unions are committed to the concept and practices of affirmative action, which include structured activities to redress structural and historical discrimination, which could prevent women from having fair and equal treatment and opportunity in the workplace.

For example reviewing and altering employment practices and working conditions to ensure they do not discriminate against women who have family responsibilities.

Affirmative action is not about discrimination against men or filling positions with equal number of men and women.

Its aim is to allow women who have been held back by discriminatory practices, to compete for jobs on a more equal footing, and on the basis of their skills, talents, experience and qualifications.

It also involves giving women the opportunity to gain these skills, experience and qualifications.

Equal Opportunity

Equal opportunity is about creating a workplace that is free from barriers such as discrimination which impede people's skills and potential.


A number of State and Federal laws say an employer must not discriminate between employees. So if you are:

* a woman
* a person of any race, culture or religion
* young or old
* parent or single
* an active union member
* an injured or disabled worker
* gay or lesbian
* pregnant

you should not be discriminated against or victimised on that basis.

That means you are entitled to:

* freedom from insults, jokes or harassment
* equal pay for equal work or equal value
* access to job opportunities, promotion and permanent employment
* fair share of overtime
* fair share of training
* support if you are injured
* support, where appropriate, so your work fits in with your family life.

Sometimes, everything at work can't be exactly equal -- different experience, skills and job requirements may mean different outcomes. BUT, you should never be held back just because of your race, sex, age, injury or union involvement.

If you are being treated unfairly, you should contact your trade union. The union can:

* give you advice on whether you are being discriminated against;
* explain what can be done to fix it;
* negotiate with your employer to stop the discrimination;
* assist in counselling where other members are involved;
* help draft a policy for your workplace;
* help you prepare an Equal Opportunity Complaint if that is appropriate.

You are also entitled to go directly to the Equal Opportunity Commission if you prefer.

To find out which union covers your type of employment, go to the ACTU website:

Alternatively you can phone ACTU Member Connect for information on 1300 362 223.

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