Workplace racism on the rise

SIOBHAN LEATHLEY
Last updated 08:39 24/05/2013

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Nearly two thirds of racial harassment complaints received last year arose from the workplace, figures from the Human Rights Commission show.

The commission recorded 71 complaints, 44 of these related to employment.

Employment Law Experts director Kristina Anderson said "unfortunately" this is only a small part of the picture. In her experience, most complaints are solved privately or through personal grievance claims.

"I imagine it's actually several times higher than this [62 per cent]."

She said employees automatically have a personal grievance claim if they are harassed by their employer or manager.

If employees are harassed by a customer, colleague or client and their knowing employer fails to protect them, then they can make a claim against their employer.

"If an employee's personal grievance claim is upheld then they employer can pay anywhere between $5-50,000."

This will vary depending on lost wages, tax resettlements and both the employee and employer's legal fees.

EEO Trust chief executive Bev Cassidy-Mackenzie said racism occurred across all industries and businesses, regardless of size.

New Zealand's increasing migrant population and growing multi-cultural society, particularly in Auckland, meant she expected 2011's 34 employment-related complaints to decrease.

"The number of complaints is too high in this day and age."

She said there are still "pockets" of intolerance around changes in the workplace, which is not limited to race. She believed there are similar attitudes to gender, disability and the ageing workforce.

"The key thing is this is beyond race, ethnicity and disability. It comes down to differences and people not being comfortable with these."

Employers can access a range of websites, tools and information to educate staff and prevent this, she said.

"They have no reason not to take responsibility for this."

A spokesman for the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, which includes the former Department of Labour, said most complaints arose during the job interview.

"...where an employer may discriminate against a prospective employee because of their race. This conduct clearly breaches the Human Rights Act."

There was a significant increase in racial harassment complaints between 2008 and 2009 from 56 to 90. This was due to a particular issue with a large number of anonymous complaints.

Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy could not be reached for comment.

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- Fairfax Media

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