Australia’s union movement will lobby for churches and other religious organisations to lose the legal right to fire some workers on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity.
The new position was contained in a motion passed at the ACTU congress last month.
Wil Stracke, the assistant secretary at Victorian Trades Hall Council, which put forward the motion, said unions wanted the exemptions that allow religious organisations to discriminate “narrowed significantly so that they can only apply when it’s an inherent requirement of the job”.
“We recognise there are roles in some places where it’s appropriate, [such as] religious education at a Catholic school,” she said.
“But … we don’t see why the school should be able to discriminate for someone who is the cleaner there. We’ll work on changing those laws and advocating for that change.”
Under federal and state laws, some religious organisations, most prominently schools, are exempt from laws that protect workers from losing their jobs as a result of their gender identity or sexuality.
In submissions to the Ruddock review into religious freedom, the Catholic church, Christian Schools Australia and other religious organisations have demanded those exemptions remain in place following the passage of marriage equality legislation in parliament last year.
Stracke said there were more than 200,000 jobs in Australia where workers could be legally fired if they came out. Nearly 40% of LGBTIQ workers were not “out at work”, she said.
“That means LGBTIQA workers are forced into the situation where, for example, taking carers’ leave to look after their sick partner means they risk being sacked,” she said.
Ashley, who did not want to give her real name because she was not out as bisexual professionally, told Guardian Australia she lost work at a Catholic-based organisation after someone found she had put a post in support of marriage equality on social media.
She was employed to give educational presentations – unrelated to gender or sexuality – to young Catholics.
“I’d been careful not to speak about sexuality because I knew it would close doors,” she said.
“It turned out someone had found out I was speaking, looked me up on Facebook, found I’d changed my profile picture to a rainbow when the US supreme court passed marriage equality about a year before, and complained to the bishop of the diocese.”
Unions will also now push for the removal of gendered language from enterprise bargaining agreements, and increased protection for transgender and non-binary workers, such as specific leave for workers who are transitioning.
Jack, who works as academic at a university and did not want his surname used, said transgender people continued to face specific challenges at work.
He remembered the day he was “outed” by his employer in front of his students.
“I logged on to the learning management system and saw that my old name was just all over the forums,” he told Guardian Australia. “Every student could see. And I had quite a large teaching load. Instantly 100 students knew.”
Jack said transgender workers should be able to access specific leave while they transitioned, and take mental health leave as a result of gender dysphoria.
“Being transgender or having gender dysphoria or being non-binary is amazingly stressful. It would be really lovely to work somewhere where I was able to say, ‘I’m really stressed, I just can’t come to work today’,” he said.