Already regular targets of discrimination at work, gay men and lesbians face further disadvantage under the federal government’s proposed overhaul of workplace laws, activists say.

Under sweeping industrial relations changes due to take effect early next year, businesses with fewer than 100 employees would be exempt from unfair dismissal laws.

And while firing someone on the grounds of sexuality will remain illegal, the general unfair dismissal exemption for smaller employers was a cause for concern, according to NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convenor David Scamell.

Because gay and lesbian workers do face higher rates of discrimination, the fact that an employer [with fewer than 100 staff] isn’t subject to unfair dismissal laws means homophobic employers will have the opportunity to dismiss someone without having to give reasons, Scamell told Sydney Star Observer.

The reality is that most employees, if they are going to fire someone for being gay, aren’t going to say explicitly: -˜You’re fired because you’re gay.’

According to a 2002 study by the Lobby and the Australian Centre for Lesbian and Gay Research, 59 percent of gay and lesbian employees have experienced some homophobia or prejudice while at work.

About half of the study’s 900 respondents had experienced homophobia in their current workplace.

National lobby group Australian Coalition for Equality (ACE) has also slammed the proposed reforms.

With the removal of unfair dismissal laws [for smaller businesses], it will be a field day for employers who are homophobic. All they have to do is not give the reason as sexual orientation and you are gone, ACE spokesperson Rod Swift told Bnews.

Swift also accused the government of preventing employees dismissed on the grounds of sexuality from claiming $4,000 in legal funding available under the workplace overhaul to people who believe they have been fired unlawfully.

But a spokesperson for Employment and Workplace Relations minister Kevin Andrews told Bnews ACE was running a scare campaign.

Discrimination on the basis of sexual preference will remain illegal, and anyone unlawfully dismissed on those grounds can qualify for the $4,000 in legal funding offered by the government, the spokesperson said.

A spokesperson from prime minister John Howard’s office confirmed gay and lesbian workers would be protected from unfair dismissal on the grounds of sexual orientation.

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