• Teachers and care workers most at risk of losing their jobs under Religious Discrimination Bill
  • Employment discrimination heightened for all positions in church-owned organisations

 

Long-serving teachers will find themselves unemployed because of their personal circumstances or beliefs if the Morrison government’s Religious Discrimination Bill is passed, an education expert warns.

National Secular Lobby (NSL) Ambassador David Zyngier, an Associate Professor at Southern Cross University and former principal of The King David School in Melbourne, says rather than prohibit discrimination, the Bill contains a range of exemptions that will allow discrimination by religious institutions to flourish.

“After potentially years of loyal and dedicated service, committed teachers could find themselves unemployed because they do not share the exact religious "ethos" of a particular school,” Dr Zyngier says.

“Teachers who are gay, or single parents, living in a de facto relationship or in any way gender diverse may no longer be employed in private and religious schools.

“This will have a great impact on students who will be aware of this discrimination and will be very reluctant to express their own sexuality.”

NSL President Peter Monk says under the revamped religious discrimination legislation, set to be introduced to parliament in March, the risk of employment discrimination will exist for all types of positions, even those with no overt religious duties in their job descriptions.

“Tradespeople, caterers, security guards, nurses, gardeners, administration staff - any positions at these organisations would be subject to refusal solely on religious grounds,” Mr Monk says.

“It’s obvious at a glance that rather than eliminating religious discrimination, this legislation perpetuates it.”

In a submission last month to changes made by the federal government to its Religious Discrimination Bill, the NSL warned the revisions threatened Australia’s social harmony by creating a raft of new religious discrimination problems in Australia where there were previously very few.

Under changes to the Bill revealed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Attorney-General Christian Porter, churches, faith-based schools, hospitals and charities will be able to discriminate in hiring staff based on their religious beliefs.

“This will destroy our social cohesion and create a form of religious apartheid in Australian society,” Mr Monk says.

“Every person who applies for any employment position with a church-owned organisation or business will potentially be subject to religious discrimination.”

The Catholic Church is Australia's largest non-government employer, responsible for providing more than 220,000 jobs, so having the ‘right’ religion may now be a qualifier for employment, Mr Monk says.

“Qualifications and experience may no longer be the deciding factor in whether a person gets a job,” Mr Monk says.

“It is reasonable that any job involving ministering require a person be of a particular religion, as it is essential to the fulfilment of duties. But positions not primarily involving religious duties should not require it.”

Although the aim of the bill is to prohibit religious discrimination, the government’s own explanatory memorandum provides examples that will allow religious discrimination to continue. These include:

  • An Anglican public benevolent institution could require its employees, including volunteer workers, to uphold and act consistently with Anglican doctrines and teachings at work.
  • A person hiring a live-in nanny or in-home carer services may require that they be of the same religious belief or activity as that person.
  • An employer can ask a prospective employee whether they observe any holy days during which they can’t work to determine if they can fulfil the requirements of the position.

Furthermore, religious hospitals, aged care providers or accommodation providers such as retirement villages may discriminate against their staff on the basis of religion both in terms of hiring and in setting codes of conduct requiring them to act in accordance with that faith at work.

NSL Ambassador Jane Caro says it is “appalling to think of the energy wasted and hopes dashed among otherwise well-qualified people who will apply for jobs they have no hope of getting because irrelevant things like their religious beliefs (or lack thereof), marital status and sexual orientation allow them to be legally discriminated against.”

The federal government is officially secular yet continues to show favour to religious interest groups.

The NSL seeks to uphold the basic democratic principle of separation between Church and State.

Leading Australian science commentator and NSL Ambassador Paul Willis, a former director of the Royal Institution of Australia, questions why Christian lobby groups are continuing to seek more influence over the drafting of the Bill.

“They (churches) will not suffer scrutiny. That’s why they are calling for protection for religious freedom, as any sensible inquiry into their activities would result in criminal charges,” Dr Willis says.

“So, let’s set up a side show to distract everyone’s attention: let’s say that religious freedom is the right to discriminate against whoever we wish because our beliefs say we can. Anything other than an investigation into the real corruption at the core of our business.”

 

A national Ipsos poll conducted in 2016 showed that 78% of people supported the question: "How important do you think it is to separate personal religious beliefs from the business of government?"