Japanese retail giant, Uniqlo, has quietly settled a discrimination claim with a former Human Resources Manager. Melanie Bell, who resigned from the fast-fashion company in March 2018, filed a claim for $1 million in damages with the Federal Circuit Court in Melbourne this past February. Ms Bell alleged that, over the three years she worked at the Japanese company, she was bullied and discriminated against because of her ‘Caucasian heritage’. This allegation included four instances of bullying by Uniqlo Chief Operating Officer (COO) Kenji Tsuji. Bell also claimed that she was overlooked for promotions in favour of male colleagues with ‘asian descent’. Uniqlo since denied those claims, stating that Ms Bell was ‘not promoted due to her performance’ and that, in relation to the allegations against Mr Tsuji, English was not his first language. The matter, which was set to commence next month, was listed for a five-day trial before the Fair Work Commission. Since its withdrawal in August, a Uniqlo spokeswoman confirmed that the dispute ‘has now been resolved on strictly confidential terms requested by the applicant and agreed to by Uniqlo Australia.’
While the case did not proceed to court, it was instrumental in encouraging other employees to speak out about their experiences at Uniqlo. Troves of current and former employees criticised the company for its toxic culture of bullying, with one stating that everyone leaves the retailer with ‘some form of PTSD’. A former visual merchandiser who worked at a Queensland store for 18 months said it ‘felt like I’d been in an abusive relationship’ and that she was ‘having panic attacks and coming home crying every afternoon’. Uniqlo Australia has since affirmed its commitment to diversity and inclusivity and said that it has clear internal processes for staff to raise issues.
Amendments to the Australian Human Rights Commission Regulations 1989 (Cth) allows employers to exercise ‘reasonable discretion against prospective employees if their criminal record is relevant to the position being applied for’. It stands that employers cannot discriminate against potential employees if their conviction is ‘irrelevant’ to the position. However, the amendments lower the bar for what is required to show that an individual’s criminal record was directly relevant to the ‘inherent requirements’ of a position. Attorney-General and Minister for Industrial Relations Christian Porter said, with respect to the provisions, that ‘most Australians would agree that people with criminal records should have a chance to turn their lives around and not be permanently excluded from employment.’ ‘But at the same time, we need to strike a sensible balance that ensures employers can reject an applicant if they reasonably believe they are unsuitable for a position due to the particular nature of their conviction,’ he added. The Attorney-General claims that the amendments will strike an appropriate balance between providing employers with certainty and clarity, and ensuring that job applicants aren’t barred from employment where their conviction has no relevance to the job they are applying for.
Allegations of intimidation and bullying have been levelled against high-ranking employees in Warrnambool City Council in Victoria’s South West. The allegations came after several staff attempted to unearth claims of fraudulent spending and financial misuse in upper management ranks. In a letter to the council, Ratepayers Victoria claimed that the council ‘sought to investigate staff who obtained evidence … in an attempt to expose the alleged behaviour’. It was reported that the whistleblowing staff were then intimidated and bullied.