NSW anti-discrimination law in the spotlight

The IEU considers anti-discrimination laws in NSW and Australia to be important protections for basic human rights. We support strengthening the anti-discrimination regime that enables people to be free from discrimination in all areas of life.

The key legislation protecting people from discrimination in NSW is the Anti-Discrimination Act (the Act).

Unfortunately, our members who are employed in a “private educational authority” (that is, almost all members) do not have the same basic rights the rest of our community take for granted.

If you are employed in a Catholic school, a non-religious school, an early childhood education and care service or a post-secondary college for overseas students, for example, your employer can discriminate against you on the following grounds:

  • sex (that is, whether you are male or female or whether you have a characteristic related to that sex, such as pregnancy)
  • disability
  • marital or domestic status
  • homosexuality.

The licence to discriminate on the grounds of sex permits an employer to discriminate against women in determining who should be offered work, the terms and conditions of their employment, access to promotion or training or if you are dismissed.

Similarly, a private educational authority can discriminate on the grounds of disability, irrespective of whether the disability is relevant to a person’s performance of their work.

The licence to discriminate on the grounds of homosexuality or marital status exists whether or not your employer is religious or whether or not your status is contrary to the religious ethos of the school or the views of the school community.

In February, the NSW Parliament will be considering a private member’s bill to limit or remove many of the exemptions in the Act. The NSW Law Reform Commission is also undertaking an inquiry into many aspects of the terms and operation of the Act, including “the exceptions, special measures and exemption processes”.

Some of these exemptions date from the time the Act came into force in the 1970s. It is time for a mature consideration of how the human rights of employees in private educational authorities can be enhanced within the ethos of those schools that are religious.

The IEU will be discussing these issues with NSW politicians in coming weeks.