Every organisation has a different feel to it when a meeting of a large group of members occurs. What is most obvious, is how close members sit to organisers when finding their spot in the meeting room. Those who are very comfortable being in the union often sit around the organiser as they have known them for many years, but others who are reluctant to sit close to the organiser, often sit far away as if being near the union organiser will somehow make them a target for being asked to do something or sign something.

Some workplaces have a high percentage of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) workers who are from non-English speaking backgrounds as well as people born outside of Australia. Many of the CALD workers may not be Australian citizens or have permanent resident status and have come to Australia for a variety of reasons.

Recently, one of our organisers attended a site where most workers identified as being a CALD worker. There was a natural reluctance to speaking up about their wages and conditions as they did not want to be targeted or to be seen to be a troublemaker for fear of being terminated or victimised. Personal experiences played a part in their reluctance alongside the overwhelming percentage of the workforce being female.

Respect@Work states that research by the Australian Institute of Family Studies has indicated that women from CALD backgrounds may be more vulnerable to exploitation and can experience a number of barriers to reporting issues at work. These are often complex and intersectional and include, among others: 

  • the amount of time spent in Australia; 
  • language proficiency; 
  • insecure work or visa status; 
  • not understanding their rights or where to go for help; 
  • in many cases, actively distrusting government or official complaint channels, 
  • and concerns about career progression or place in community. 

They go on to say that many forms of discrimination and harassment can intersect and place CALD workers in vulnerable situations with migration status placing women in an unequal position where more often women will prioritise financial need over speaking up.

Unions have come a long way in recognising the need to be able to relate to the issues that differentiate non-CALD with some CALD workers where the main concerns are insecurity of work based on past experiences, the need to financially support a family, their migration status and a limited understanding of the industrial framework in terms of their rights.

Organisations who rely on CALD workers need to create a culturally diverse workplace that is safe and inclusive, and unions can have a large role in achieving this.