BlueScope Steel has been given the green light to discriminate on the basis of sex.
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal granted the exemption to help BlueScope address a gender imbalance in its workforce.
Bluescope Steel given green light for discrimination
BlueScope sought the exemption from sex discrimination laws to allow it to prioritise female applicants to roles at its manufacturing facilities.
Therefore, it wants to use targeted “female only” advertisements to attract suitable candidates.
Current laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex or gender in employment, including recruitment.
However, companies and organisations can apply for exemptions.
In this case, less than 12 percent of BlueScope’s workforce is female, despite efforts to attract and retain female staff.
The company argued that it needs to be more proactive to improve female representation at all levels within its organisation.
It also said gender diversity within the company will benefit both the organisation in addition to the wider community.
VCAT received 13 objections to the application, mainly from current and existing BlueScope workers.
They expressed concerns about the impact of only employing females without reference to ability, suitability or qualifications.
In addition, they also worried about the negative impact the exemption might have on current and future female employees.
They argued they might be perceived as being employed based on gender and not ability.
Reasonable and justified measure
In the end, VCAT granted the exemption finding it a “reasonable and justified” measure to help BlueScope achieve a workforce that better reflects the community.
The Tribunal also said it is satisfied with BlueScope’s assurances that it will only employ female candidates who are suitably qualified.
Employment lawyer Stephen Dryley-Collins says the case is a reminder that employers must seek exemptions before discriminating.
“Tribunal and Commissions rarely grant exemptions from discrimination laws,” he said.
If there is a genuine and reasonable need, however, an employer must apply for one.
“It is vital that recruiters do not discriminate on the basis of a protected attribute like sex.”
Mr Dryley-Collins pointed to the recent case of the Queensland Police Service, for example.
A Crime and Corruption investigation found recruiters breached discrimination laws by favouring unqualified female candidates over male candidates.
The scathing report subsequently found the QPS failed to apply for an appropriate exemption.
As a result of the discriminatory recruitment strategy, more than 200 suitable male candidates missed out on employment.
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