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Industrial activity

In Victoria, it is against the law for someone to bully you or treat you unfairly because of your industrial activity. Industrial activity refers to being involved in an industrial organisation such as a union or chamber of commerce. It also against the law for someone to discriminate against you because you do not want to join a union or industrial organisation.

A middle-age man in work gear leans against a pole in a workshop.

What is industrial activity discrimination?

Industrial activity discrimination is when someone treats you unfairly, including bullying you, because of your industrial activity, or because they assume you are involved in industrial activity.

Industrial activity can include:

  • being a member of an industrial organisation
  • participating in the lawful activities of an industrial organisation
  • organising or promoting a lawful activity for an industrial organisation
  • representing or promoting the views of an industrial organisation.

It’s also against the law to treat you unfairly or bully you for refusing to join a union or industrial organisation.

An industrial organisation is any group established for people in a certain industry, trade, profession or business. This can include:

  • a trade union
  • a local chamber of commerce or manufacturing
  • an informal employee group that represents the interests of all employees.

How does the law protect me?

Discrimination is against the law if it happens in an area of public life such as:

Under the Equal Opportunity Act, duty holders (such as employers, schools, and goods and service providers) have a positive duty to eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation in these areas, as far as possible.

It is also against the law to victimise a person, which means treat them badly, because they have made complaint about discrimination or helped someone else make a complaint.

You can make a complaint

Get help from us.

You can make a complaint to us if you think you have experienced:

If you wish, someone else can make a complaint for you. Find out how we help people resolve complaints.

We can also give you information about your rights.

Industrial activity discrimination at work

While a person is responsible for their own unlawful behaviour, employers can also be held responsible.

Under the Equal Opportunity Act, employers have a positive duty to eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation as far as possible.

Victoria is unique in having a positive duty, which creates an opportunity to prevent unlawful behaviour. It helps organisations put a healthy workplace culture in place, just as occupational health and safety laws require employers to take appropriate steps to ensure injuries don’t occur.

To ensure they are complying with the positive duty, organisations should also put measures in place to ensure that complaints are responded to swiftly and appropriately when they do arise.

The positive duty applies to employers of all sizes, regardless of whether they are a major company or a small cafe, and covers all types of workers:

  • full-time, part-time and casual employees
  • agents and contract workers
  • trainees and apprentices.

It applies to all stages of employment, including:

Examples of industrial activity discrimination in the workplace

  • Dismissing a staff member because they are a union representative
  • Staff members bullying a co-worker because they don’t want to join the union
  • Refusing to hire people who belong to a particular union
  • Demoting a staff member because as OH&S representative they raised too many concerns.

Are there any exceptions to the law?

There are some exceptions in the Equal Opportunity Act that mean it’s not against the law to discriminate in particular circumstances. For example, discrimination is not against the law if there is a real risk to someone’s health, safety or property.

Find out more about exceptions.

My human rights under the Charter

Every Victorian has the right to equal and effective protection against discrimination, and to enjoy their human rights without discrimination.

Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities contains 20 basic rights that promote and protect the values of freedom, respect, equality, and dignity.

The Victorian Government, local councils and other public authorities must always consider Charter rights, including the right to equality, when they create laws, develop policies and deliver their services.

Find out more about your human rights under the Charter and what to do if you think they have been breached.

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The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission acknowledges that we work on the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We also work remotely and serve communities on the lands of other Traditional Custodians.

We pay our respects to their Elders past and present.