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Almost half of workplace racial discrimination legal matters in NSW reported by Indigenous people

Giovanni Torre -

More than 40 per cent of workplace racial discrimination complaints received by the Respect at Work Legal Service in NSW were received from Indigenous people, the organisation reported on Wednesday.

RAWLS, established and run by Legal Aid NSW, began work in January 2023.

To date, much of the support provided by the new service has been for women needing help with sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace because of pregnancy, sex and disability.

Ahead of International Women's Day on 8 March, new data shows complaints of workplace sexual harassment and discrimination continue to be a concern, with more than 800 workers seeking help and 1153 advice and representation services provided since last January.

Of those services, 71 per cent were for female clients with the most common complaints being disability discrimination (27 per cent) followed by sexual harassment (20 per cent) and sex discrimination (14 per cent).

Of the advice provided, six per cent related to racial discrimination and of those people who contacted RAWLS, 42 per cent of those seeking help were First Nations people.

"We know racial discrimination is widespread with 16 per cent of Australians experiencing it, so we really encourage more people to seek help," RAWLS solicitor Fiona Pace said.

Ms Pace said that while it was positive people were getting legal help, the fact women are still experiencing workplace sex-based discrimination and harassment was a cause for concern.

"Unfortunately, we continue to see women experiencing unwelcome sexual behaviours in the workplace, including assaults and inappropriate comments. Sex-based discrimination based on pregnancy or family responsibilities are also common issues we see, with some complaining of losing their job on this basis," she said.

"The harmful impact of these experiences cannot be overstated. We see clients who experience financial loss from being demoted, losing shifts or their job or being victimised for complaining. People are also dealing with the mental health impacts and stress."

RAWLS is a free statewide legal service offered by Legal Aid NSW to support people experiencing workplace sexual harassment and discrimination. It followed the Respect@Work report, which found a third of workers, and two in five women, have experienced sexual harassment.

In the area of disability discrimination, most advice given by RAWLS concerns employers refusing to provide workplace adjustments to accommodate a worker's disability or health condition.

"18 per cent of Australians have a disability and employers should be supporting them to properly participate and thrive in the workplace," Ms Pace said.

The highest number of complaints came from the healthcare and social assistance sector, followed by the professional, scientific and technical sector and accommodation and food services.

RAWLS works collaboratively with other organisations to support clients, including with trauma- informed referral pathways to partner organisations who can provide specialist non-legal support.

Legal Aid NSW chief executive Monique Hitter said ensuring people can understand and defend their rights in the workplace is essential to address workplace discrimination.

People are encouraged to contact RAWLS on (02) 9072 2333 or by emailing [email protected].

The service can also be accessed through the TIS interpreter service by calling 131 450 and asking for RAWLS.

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