What is discrimination?

Discrimination occurs when a person, or a group of people, is treated less favourably than another person or group because of race, sex, pregnancy or marital status, disability, religion, sexuality, gender identity or carer responsibilities.

Discrimination happens when a person is denied the opportunity to participate freely and fully in normal day-to-day activities. It might include: harassment or victimisation in the workplace, being unable to gain physical access to a building or facility, being denied goods and services, difficulty in obtaining appropriate accommodation and housing, or not being able to join a trade union.

Grounds or types of discrimination:

  • Age – being regarded as too young or too old.
  • Breastfeeding – being asked not to feed, or to use other facilities to breast or bottle feed.
  • Family responsibility – having a caring role.
  • Family status – being a relative of a particular person or having the status of being a particular relative.
  • Gender history – having reassigned gender as certified under the Gender Reassignment Act 2000.
  • Impairment – having a physical, intellectual or mental disability that is current, past or imputed.
  • Marital status – being single, married, a de facto partner, separated, divorced or widowed.
  • Political conviction – including a lack of conviction.
  • Pregnancy – being pregnant, having a characteristic associated with pregnancy or generally imputed to persons who are pregnant.
  • Race – including colour, ethnicity or national origin or descent.
  • Racial harassment – including offensive or insulting comments or other behaviour about a person’s colour, ethnic background or origin.
  • Religious conviction – including a lack of conviction.
  • Sex – being a man or woman.
  • Sexual harassment – including unwelcome requests for sexual favours, touching and comments about a person’s private relationships.
  • Sexual orientation – including heterosexuality, homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality or assumed sexual orientation.
  • Spent conviction – the Equal Opportunity Commission can investigate discrimination on the ground of spent convictions under the Spent Convictions Act 1988.

*The act may also apply to a relative or a person who has a close relationship to a person affected by these grounds.



The Equal Opportunity Commission of WA has two major roles: to encourage recognition and understanding of the principles of equal opportunity and provide a means of redress to individuals who allege unlawful discrimination.

The Equal Opportunity Act of 1984:

  • To eliminate, so far as is possible, discrimination against persons on the grounds of sex, marital status, pregnancy, family responsibility or family status, race, religious or political conviction, impairment, age or, in certain cases, gender history in the areas of work, accommodation, education, the provision of goods, facilities and services, and the activities of clubs.
  • To eliminate, so far as is possible, sexual harassment and racial harassment in the workplace and in educational institutions, and in relation to accommodation.
  • To promote recognition and acceptance within the community of the equality of men and women.
  • To promote recognition and acceptance with the community of the equality of persons of all races, regardless of their religious or political convictions, their impairments or ages.

The Human Rights Commission has the authority to investigate and conciliate complaints of alleged discrimination and human rights breaches under the follow laws:

  • Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986
  • Age Discrimination Act 2004
  • Disability Discrimination Act 1992
  • Racial Discrimination Act 1984
  • Sex Discrimination Act 1984
What can I do?
  • Inform your branch/worksite of local campaigns that predominately impact women.
  • Sign paper and electronic petitions sponsored by unions and other groups for better working conditions, for example, paid maternity leave, extra childcare places, save Medicare, etc.
  • Participate in delegations to meet federal, state or local politicians on these issues.
  • Ensure members are aware of state and federal laws surrounding discrimination and discriminatory practices.

Updated March 2019