Affirmative Action laws have greatly increased, statistically, the role of women in the workforce as well as improving working conditions and awards granted to women. However, many argue this is just a superficial answer to a deep underlying problem of a male orientated workforce. Other critics argue that while the principles of Affirmative action are good, the legislation itself is ineffective, and finally, some opponents argue that Affirmative Action undermines the principles of equality.
Supporters for Affirmative action, ague that equality will eventually be achieved, as discrimination will be removed and employers will be forced to accept women as equal employees. Affirmative Action, in theory, as laid out in the Affirmative Action (equal opportunity for women) Act 1986 would eliminate discrimination against women and create equal opportunities.
Supporters claim the legislation is reversing past discrimination and natural bias, created from centuries of a male dominated work force, they also argue that using Affirmative Action to place women into high management roles will create role models for future generations, in which Affirmative Action will hopefully not be necessary.
One of the primary components of Affirmative Action, however, is that women, when they have equal qualifications etc. as men, gain the position, due to their sex, and while supporters view this as a success method creating equality, critics view this as a form of negative discrimination, masked in an attempt to gain equality, and morally, it shouldn't be applied.
They argue that using affirmative action to assure some women a place in higher positions that they wouldn't have necessarily gained otherwise, undermines the achievements made by women who would have received their positions without the aid of the legislation, and that it would be presumed, by the rest of society, that their achievements were through use of the legislation, rather than personal achievement. Many supporters of the principles of Affirmative Action disagree with the legislation created and the way in which it's applied to society.
Generally, because of the lack of power the Government, or appropriate tribunals and commissions have in applying the legislation, and forcing companies to comply, or because they believe the legislation isn't harsh enough. A person wishing to protest against discrimination would do so under the Sexual Discrimination Act 1984, however they would have to undergo a lengthy process through the commissions and tribunals associated with Affirmative Action, particularly the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board and NSW Industrial Relations Tribunal, which both have rather low success rates, 10% and 60% respectively.
Trying to prove discrimination is extremely difficult, and even when successful despite principally enforcing equality, these commissions and tribunals can rarely practically do so, particularly now that John Howard's new Industrial Relations Laws have also removed the unfair dismissal tribunal, giving small businesses more rights to fire employees without giving reasons, and therefore more freedom to exercise discrimination.
Small businesses don't have to comply or meet quotas in regards to equal opportunity employment; neither do employers in a private home (except racial discrimination policy), and have a statuary exception to the Action (equal opportunity for women) Act, 1986.
Yet the Small Business Sector is the largest employer in Australia with the small businesses accounting for nearly half of all private sector non-agricultural employment, critics of Affirmative Action Policy argue that small businesses is where Affirmative Action Policy is required most. As the new Industrialisation Laws casualise the workforce, and employers have more rights in regard to firing employees, Affirmative Action, and anti-discrimination laws fail to cover this key area.
Affirmative Action Legislation is proving to be successful through statistical results, which now show women achieving higher positions truly it truly reverses discrimination, or is still limited by such things as the glass ceiling effect. In recent times it has been proven that while women are gaining more senior positions, they are still the minority, and therefore Affirmative Action Law needs more time in practice before it achieves all of its aims.