The federal government's exclusion of gays and transgender people from a $4,000 payment to help workers who believe they have been unlawfully sacked is discriminatory and vindictive, a lobby group says.
Prime Minister John Howard on Thursday announced the government would provide eligible employees with up to $4,000 to help pay for independent legal advice to determine if their unlawful dismissal case had merit.
The payment was criticised by Labor and unions as a stunt as the government prepares to exclude workers in smaller businesses from laws protecting them from unfair dismissal.
Australian Coalition for Equality spokesman Rod Swift said the government was pandering to anti-gay MPs and church groups by failing to include sexuality or gender identity in its list of grounds on which a sacked employee can claim a $4,000 government contribution to their legal costs.
"The government is deliberately and vindictively rolling-back the basic rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers," Mr Swift said in a statement.
"Under existing unfair dismissal laws which the new system is designed to replace, employees have at least some protection from workplace bias on the grounds of sexuality.
"Not only will the new industrial regime remove much of this protection, it won't even give gay employees the $4,000 legal cost safety net John Howard is offering other workers."
Mr Swift said Mr Howard's stated opposition to anti-gay discrimination and his support for same-sex couple superannuation rights had come to nothing.
"This is clearly a case where sexual minorities are being punished to win some cheap points with anti-gay MPs, churches and activist groups," he said.
Mr Swift said Mr Howard had justified the list of grounds under which the $4,000 contribution could be claimed - gender, race, disability, religious beliefs or political associations - on the basis that the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) Act already prohibited workplace discrimination on these grounds.
But Mr Swift said the HREOC Act also prohibited discrimination in employment on the grounds of sexual preference.
"The government is effectively using human rights laws and workplace protections to declare lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people unwanted and disposable employees," he said.
Does Howard have the right to withdraw legal aid for dismissal on these grounds? The argument goes that queers do not have to support a family, and thus do not have the same urgency for a job as a straight person does. Is this relevant, or not?