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Shining A Light On Pre-Employment And Workplace Discrimination In New Zealand



discrimination

dɪˌskrɪmɪˈneɪʃ(ə)n/

noun

the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex.

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It’s a taboo, an ‘icky’ topic, one that doesn’t get talked about often (freely or in public, at least), although a quick Google search on ‘discrimination in New Zealand workplaces’ brings up a host of information, personal testimony, and employer attitudes on the subject. Having worked in recruitment, I had the unique experience of being the middleman between client and candidate. That meant being privy to candid (often blunt), confidential feedback on candidates, as well as being asked to only put forward candidates that meet certain… ‘criteria’. People often joke that hardly anyone lasts more than a year in recruitment, but they don’t tell you why. I remember wondering what on earth I’d got myself into when a colleague at a large recruitment firm told me ‘you have to have no conscience to work here’. It wasn’t long before I figured out why.

If a client says they want a man, and they are going to pay you a large commission to find one, you’re not about to rock the boat and risk them giving the job to another recruiter who will be asked to do the same. The art of discriminate candidate shopping was alive and well and it wasn’t just at my old firm either. I discovered this was, in fact, a disgusting, wide-spread (and casually accepted by most) industry practice that was effectively bypassing laws around discrimination; perpetuating the issue through some kind of secret underground network. You wouldn’t see these clients putting their unethical ‘requirements’ in a job ad, but they sure as hell didn’t hold back in a one-on-one situation. The feeling of powerlessness I had was why I quit and why many new staff didn’t even last 6 months. The number of times I would be asked for feedback by a candidate and I had to make something up because I couldn’t sit there and say: “Apologies, although you are infinitely more skilled and look five times better on paper, they want a man.”

I was once personally asked by a recruitment colleague to ‘not send them any more XXX race of people’, and another time overheard a conversation about ‘not putting any XXX race forward for X role’. I was even told by management that one company we serviced only wanted ‘pretty, young girls’ to suit their business objective. Here’s me thinking recruitment would be a great way for me to help people find jobs, and sure, I did, but it was often dependent on a discriminatory range of parameters.

The area of recruitment I worked in was quite technical and my candidate pool was made up of a culturally, and gender diverse group of individuals. Many of whom, were new to New Zealand; often here based on OUR skill shortages, or here as part of a skilled migrant programme. It made me feel panicky and physically sick knowing that if I could get my highly skilled and technically ‘in-demand’ candidate to change his or her name on their CV, that they would have a better chance at being selected for a role. What an awful position to be put in. “ Oh, by the way, Ranjith, if you could change your name to Robert, I can get you this job, otherwise, forget it!” It’s utterly ridiculous! So WHY does it happen? Haven’t we become a more progressive nation in the last 50 years? How do employers still find it appropriate to suggest what they do or don’t want based on someone’s race/culture, age, disability, or gender?

Massey University professor Paul Spoony surveyed New Zealand employers and was quoted in a 2016 Stuff article, where he discussed his findings around New Zealand employers “significant” name and accent discrimination, with the BBC. Saying it can be tied to assumptions about ethnicity.

"We have surveyed employers, many of whom feel that immigrants, especially from Asia, do not understand New Zealand and local cultural practices. They are particularly concerned with English language proficiency."

It’s not just race, either. I’ve personally attended seminars on workplace diversity, where New Zealand’s poor rates of inclusion for those living with a disability were discussed. The most recent data (2017) from Statistics New Zealand states that people with a disability are twice as likely to be unemployed.

If you are reading this, you probably know someone that has faced workplace discrimination. You might have even faced it yourself. Whether you have seen a job ad that asks for someone with ‘a minimum of ten years’ experience’ (employers are not allowed to specify this in a job ad, as it is indirect age discrimination) or are wondering if the reason you can’t get ahead in your role is because of your age, race, or gender, we are here to advocate and support positive change.

See below these helpful tips we have pulled from the employment.govt website:

What to do if you think you have been unlawfully discriminated against regarding your employment

If you believe an employer is discriminating against you on one or more of the prohibited grounds listed above, you should first talk with them to try and resolve the problem. If this is unsuccessful or not appropriate, there are other options for you to follow, depending on whether the issue came up before or during employment.

If the discrimination was before employment

The Human Rights Act 1993 applies to discrimination in most aspects of employment including job advertisements, application forms, interviews and job offers before the employee has a job as well as after the person has the job. It also applies to unpaid workers and independent contractors.

If the discrimination was during employment

If an employee thinks they have been unlawfully discriminated against during their employment they have a choice and can either:

  • go to mediation and/or raise a personal grievance under the Employment Relations Act 2000, or

  • make a complaint to the Human Rights Commission (external link).

Discrimination issues under the Employment Relations Act 2000

  • If discrimination happens in the employment relationship, the employee and employer should try to discuss the issue to resolve the problem. They can use a support person to help them, e.g. a union representative or lawyer. They also can contact us for more information on how to resolve the situation.

  • If the problem can’t be resolved by the parties talking about it, they can use the free and confidential employment mediation service.

  • If the issue is still not resolved a party can take their personal grievance to the Employment Relations Authority.

Discrimination issues under the Human Rights Act 1993

  • The Human Rights Commission provides a free and confidential mediation service.

  • If mediation doesn’t resolve the complaint, the employee can take the complaint to the Director of the Office of Human Rights Proceedings, Human Rights Review Tribunal.

  • For more information contact the Human Rights Commission on 0800 4 YOUR RIGHTS (0800 496 877), email: infoline@hrc.co.nz or on the Human Rights Commission (external link)website.

More information on discrimination

Human Rights Commission

  • InfoLine phone: 0800 496 877

  • Action and Resources on the Transgender Inquiry (external link)

  • Getting a Job: A-Z Pre-Employment Guidelines [PDF 630KB, 54 pages] (external link)

New Zealand Council of Trade Unions

  • CTU Out @ Work Network (external link)

Business New Zealand

Diversity Works New Zealand (formerly EEO Trust)

The only way to stop discrimination is to stop! Stop accepting it, stop perpetuating it, and take measures to hold people accountable for their discriminatory actions. It is hard enough battling it out for a job without someone using things beyond your control (age, race, gender, disability) to turn you down.

How this phenomenon can be changed in the recruitment industry is almost a whole other nut to crack. It was a juggernaut of an issue; a mountain to climb – and the only way I could see out, was to run away and never look back. I often think about how I could have done things differently. Should I have told my client: “No! That is unacceptable and discriminatory. I will be reporting you to the Human Rights Commission.” Yes, I wish I had, but being new to the industry, I wanted to prove to my clients, and my manager that I could do a good job and not come back from my first client meeting saying: “I sent our top client to employment court” – Probably would have been fired on the spot! (Unfair dismissal!) Either that, or they would have made it SO uncomfortable for me to be there I would have wanted to quit. (That is also discrimination!) It’s rife!

If you have any ideas about how to combat this ‘hush-hush’ subject, please feel free to comment down below. Would love to hear your thoughts, experiences, and ideas. The more we talk about it, the better!


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