Australian job market rife with racism

University inquiry reveals fewer interviews are granted if an application carries an ethnic name - especially if it is of Middle-Eastern descent.

Jamal Daoud, a Saudi-born Palestinian, has been unemployed for three out of six years in Australia despite numerous qualifications.
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SYDNEY // A university study has uncovered widespread racial discrimination against Middle-Eastern job seekers in Australia. In a far-reaching experiment, academics in Canberra have found that Australian companies are far less likely to interview a prospective employee with a Middle-Eastern, Chinese, aboriginal or Italian name than a white, Anglo-Saxon applicant with the same qualifications. Researchers sent out 4,000 fictitious resumes in response to job advertisements for entry-level positions in hospitality, sales, data entry and customer service in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. "My co-authors and I were interested in trying to look at the extent of ethnic and racial discrimination in Australia," said Andrew Leigh, an economics professor at the Australian National University. The fake resumes state that all candidates had attended secondary school in Australia and had the same work experience. Only the names differed. The results have shown that finding employment can be a frustrating battle for ethnic applicants, regardless of their credentials, with job hunters from a Middle-Eastern background having to submit 64 per cent more resumes than their Anglo-Saxon counterparts to secure an interview. "It is consistent with some theories that talk about the melting pot taking a long time to simmer," Mr Leigh added. "If we had done this study in 1950s Australia, it might well have been that there was a lot more discrimination against Italian migrants who were then fresh off the boat. It may be now that Middle Eastern and Chinese applicants who have arrived more recently are suffering more racial discrimination." The outcome of the study has surprised the research team, which had expected indigenous Australians to be worse off as they already suffer chronic disadvantage in so many other areas, such as health and education. The level of prejudice in the workplace has varied from city to city, with Sydney belying its reputation as an engaging cosmopolitan hub. It was the least tolerant of the major centres and the worst place for Middle-Eastern and Chinese job-seekers. "A big influx of migrants doesn't make people more tolerant, it makes them in the short-run less tolerant," Mr Leigh said. Jamal Daoud, 42, a Saudi-born Palestinian who moved to Australia in 1996, has felt the full force of religious and racial bigotry in the labour market. "There was a customer service job at an Australian airport, and they were impressed with my resume but they were suspicious of my name," said Mr Daoud, who was initially called on the telephone to assess his suitability for an interview but the conversation ended abruptly when he said that he had been born in Saudi Arabia. "It comes to their mind that Muslims and Saudis who are around aeroplanes will be repeating the 11th of September without knowing that the majority of Muslims are condemning such action," Mr Daoud said. "The rejection made me very depressed. We hoped that with time things will get better, but we discovered now it is getting worse." "I am starting to feel that I am besieged. This is daily life for us. There are highly qualified people who are working in security, as a taxi driver or in a convenience store and I meet such people every day." For three of the past six years this well-skilled Muslim migrant has been unemployed and he is currently holding down a low-paying position in the public service. Mr Daoud is understandably upset that Australia has not seen fit to harness his talents. His qualifications include a bachelor's degree in veterinary medicine, a postgraduate certificate in politics and a diploma in teaching English as a second language. Others looking to escape the unemployment queue in Australia have changed their names to bury their Islamic heritage; a man called Mohammed became Michael to get a start in real estate, while another, Bilal, became Billy to secure opportunities in the finance world. "It is common. There are people who are urging us to change our names so that we can hide our real identity and culture. That way we would be less likely to be targeted by discrimination," Mr Daoud said. Business groups do not believe that such problems are widespread and have disputed the findings of the Australian National University study. "We were surprised because any routine observation of Australian workplaces right across the economy shows the diversity that is seen in Australian society," said Greg Evans, the acting chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. "Australian employers value that diversity and they recruit people on a non-discriminatory basis based on who is most appropriate to fill certain roles." Although Mr Leigh and his fellow researchers have unearthed a worrying seam of prejudice, they are hopeful it might just be unconscious discrimination where employers have lazily picked Anglo-Saxon names they feel familiar with, shortcomings that can be addressed through education and greater awareness. "While we can't fully rule out that there is something very sinister going on here," Mr Leigh said. "I'm more optimistic that people are making mistakes rather than being out-and-out nasty."