Hospo Voice

How to deal with workplace racism

January 25, 2021

workplace racism

Have you ever been victim to or witnessed racial discrimination as a hospo worker? Unfortunately, if you have, you’re not alone. A Fair Work Ombudsman report from a few years ago said that, although visa holders only made up 6% of our workforce, they made up 49% of court cases that year. We hear stories from underpaid migrant workers who talk of having to accept longer work hours and lower wages. It’s pretty appalling!

So what exactly does racism in the workplace look like? 

Employers overworking and underpaying their most vulnerable staff seems to be a common complaint. We spoke to Tiff, a Malaysian chef who has experienced racism in many jobs. 

“They bully you. They don’t let you have a break but will take money out of your salary if you eat the food,” he said. 

Because of flaws in our immigration system, migrant workers often become an easy target. If they’re being sponsored by their employer, they feel they can’t complain because they might get their visa cancelled. 

On top of this fear, migrant workers also face racial microaggressions from their colleagues. 

According to Tiff: “My previous workplace was not a healthy environment, the culture was very racist. They would laugh and mock the way I speak English and my accent. I don’t think it’s funny. I think it’s discrimination and racism.” 

Some of these employers also think it’s okay to underpay their staff, especially migrant workers. 

“I wasn’t allowed to go for a break, and I had to wash the dishes too. It’s not the chef’s job to wash dishes, and they didn’t pay me the overtime… They didn’t have a kitchen hand because they wanted to cut costs.” 

When migrant workers are in a vulnerable position, it makes it difficult to keep employers accountable because employees are too afraid to push back.

How do I protect myself from a racist workplace?

The good news: there are many helpful resources and legal avenues available to help you. 

What if I’m experiencing racism at work right now?

First of all, it’s straight up illegal for employers to be racist. The Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (RDA) makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person because of their race, colour, descent, national origin or ethnic origin, or immigrant status. So if you keep evidence of the discrimination, it will hold up in court (if it goes that far).

Here are some steps you can take if you are currently a victim of workplace racism:

What if I’m a witness to workplace racism and I want to be a good ally?

We are all responsible for stopping racism in our society.

Here’s a few ways you can help: 

The future

We know this topic is heavy and dealing with racism really takes its toll on mental health. 

As Tiff shows us, there is light at the end of the tunnel:
“Now where I work there is no racism at all. We can talk to them. We are free to give feedback. If we don’t feel good, we can talk to them straight away. We can share and don’t need to be afraid.” 

Which is the way it should be.

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