Affirmative action under review

Issue 

Affirmative action under review

By Monique Choy

SYDNEY — Proposed changes to the Affirmative Action Act will shortly be presented to federal parliament. Earlier this year, interest groups and individuals participated in discussions around the country.

According to Amanda Hainsworth, the Affirmative Action Agency's director of public affairs, the "vast majority of the responses were very positive, they supported the legislation and they had suggestions in specific areas".

A review is written into the Affirmative Action (Equal Opportunity for Women) Act, which has now been in operation for about five years. The review discussed 23 recommendations, including some on the special needs of various groups in the work force, and procedures for reporting to the agency.

At present, being named in parliament is the only penalty for companies failing to submit an annual report. The review recommends a new system under which companies not complying would be ineligible for government contracts. The Victorian government already has such a contract compliance system.

At present, higher education institutions and organisations employing 100 or more must observe the eight-step affirmative action program, which is based on company communication and consultation with employees, especially women, and review of policies on hiring, promotion and transfer.

Each company must make an annual report on its progress to the agency, including a statistical analysis of its work force, but there are no quotas. Aside from the eight steps, organisations are free to design their own programs, which may include child-care, flexible hours and job sharing.

"It's really up to the individual companies what approach they take", Hainsworth told Green Left. "The emphasis should change now more to getting employers to implement quality programs. The emphasis in the past has been more on just getting them to report."

The agency is now focusing on increasing public awareness of the benefits of affirmative action. It argues that the program benefits employers, for example by increasing the likelihood that experienced and trained workers will return to work after maternity leave.

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