News

Young People In NSW Are Experiencing Workplace Racism At Horrifying Levels

A new survey by Unions NSW shows a shocking number of people under 25 have experienced racism at work.

Racism NSW Young People

We missed you too. Sign up to our newsletter, and follow us on Instagram and Twitter, so you always know where to find us.

Nearly half of young people in NSW have experienced workplace racism, a new survey has found.

Unions NSW sampled 300 people under the age of 25 across the state for their new ‘Young, free and living precariously’ report.

44 percent of respondents said they had experienced racial discrimination in their place of employment since entering the workforce.


Mark Morey, secretary at Unions NSW, told Junkee that vilification has many forms, and can include anything from taunts, slurs, mockery, being given less work, receiving less favourable conditions, being denied a promotion, to being chosen for redundancy because of one’s racial background.

Ash*, whose name has been changed, is a 25-year-old South Asian woman. She told Junkee she was targeted at work last year by her former superior, a white man in his 50s.

In one incident that stuck with Ash, she recalls a project he was supervising her on. “It’s almost like I do with my dog,” he said about her in front of her colleagues. “If he goes out of line, I’ll yank him with my chain to get him back.”

Demonstrating grounds for racial discrimination can be difficult…

“I think it’s definitely racist and very weird when you’re saying that as a white person to any ethnic minority,” she said about his comment.

While he was made to apologise to Ash, she said her experience with him still affects her, and has left her “wary of organisations understanding the nuances and complexities of what it’s like to be a person of colour working in a majority white company.”

A Lack Of Legal Protection

The survey also found that current laws don’t fully protect workers against racial discrimination in the workplace. Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Commonwealth) prohibits racial vilification, but doesn’t impose criminal liability, said Unions NSW.

And state legislation isn’t much better. “NSW law lacks protection against racial discrimination at work,” said Morey. “The same as federal law.”

NSW employees are covered under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW), but demonstrating grounds for racial discrimination can be difficult, Bridget Akers, a senior solicitor from Legal Aid NSW, told Junkee.

“Workers often have a sense that they are being discriminated against, and that the reason is their race, but they don’t have the evidence that the law requires to prove it,” said Akers.

The Complexity And Cost Of Taking Action

She also explained that formal complaints are dealt with by conciliation at the Australian Human Rights Commission or Anti-Discrimination NSW. After a successful conciliation the final agreement remains confidential and out of the public domain. The vast majority of complaints are settled this way, and it’s free to lodge a complaint.

“If the matter cannot be resolved and the young worker wants to take the matter to court, court proceedings are complicated, slow and expensive,” said Akers. “If the worker is not eligible for a grant of legal aid and cannot afford to pursue litigation, many workers would give up on their claim.”

78 percent of those surveyed said their experiences of racism in the workplace weren’t addressed…

Morey agrees, saying the legal processes currently available to this demographic are inadequate. On top of trying to juggle other commitments like study, unpaid internships, or second jobs, these workers can be earning junior wages and struggling to pay rent or bills — meaning they’re not always in a position to pay legal costs, take time off work, or find another gig.

78 percent of those surveyed said their experiences of racism in the workplace weren’t addressed or resolved when flagged.

“Both the Commonwealth and NSW parliament need to look at strengthening anti-discrimination laws to protect victims of racial vilification,” said Morey.