Australian workplaces are staring down the barrel of religious employees suddenly becoming far more privileged than their non-religious colleagues.
If the Morrison government gets its way with its proposed Religious Discrimination Bill, one of the knock-on effects will see employers having to take into consideration the religious beliefs and practices of its staff so to avoid indirect discrimination.
But, as Sydney barrister Dean Stretton points out, non-religious employees would not enjoy the same treatment. In this scenario, accommodating someone’s commitment to Friday evening prayers at the local mosque will outrank accommodating another person’s commitment to a Friday family dinner or a footy game.
“As currently drafted, the bill is likely to discriminate against non-believers – and enshrine religious privilege – by requiring employers...to accommodate religious beliefs and activities to the exclusion of non-religious beliefs and activities,” says Dean.
“Clause 8 of the draft bill would outlaw indirect discrimination on the grounds of ‘religious belief or activity’ – that is, it would prohibit the imposition… of unreasonable requirements that disadvantage people who have, or engage in, a particular religious belief or activity.”
“Nowhere, however, is there any recognition of the need for religious beliefs and activities to be balanced against non-religious beliefs and activities.”
Such provisions that privilege the lives of religious people above non-religious people in the draft bill can be traced to the flawed definition of ‘religious belief or activity’.
Dean argues that this definition needs to be expanded to include philosophical beliefs and activities so that – per the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (of which Australia is a signatory) – we have appropriate protections for non-religious beliefs.