Posted on December 10, 2010

Woman Who Lost Job Sues Labour Hire Firm Over Written Exam

Paul Bibby, Sydney Morning Herald, Dec. 10, 2010

ONE of Australia’s largest labour hire companies is being sued for racial discrimination, with claims that it demanded that a young Thai migrant with limited English complete a written health and safety exam, and then in effect dismissed her when she failed it.

Wan Phen Promlee says she was looking forward to returning to casual work as a warehouse picker and packer this year after time off with a wrist injury.

But, according to a claim she has filed in the Federal Magistrates Court, her employer, the labour hire firm Integrated, had other ideas.

Ms Promlee says that when she returned she was initially told there was no work for her.

Then, some weeks later, she received a call. The management of the warehouse company she had been sent to, Ceva Logistics, had been wondering where she was and asked Integrated to send her specifically.

But instead of returning to her duties, Ms Promlee, 26, was told to sit a written exam.

“I went there and the woman said, ‘You sit and watch the CD and answer the questions’,” Ms Promlee said.

“I couldn’t understand. I just gave the paper back.”

Ms Promlee says she was not allowed to have someone with her to read out questions and was not offered any translation assistance. She was not offered any more work.

Integrated said Ms Promlee had the questions read to her and was given the chance to answer them verbally. It said the health and safety test is mandatory for all employees when they register with the company.

But Ms Promlee was not required to sit the exam until six months later. She had already been given a safety orientation by Ceva Logistics, including instruction by a young woman who spoke her language.

“I learnt about how to lift a box without hurting yourself and what boxes are too heavy so you need to ask for help,” Ms Promlee said. “I know how to be safe.”

This was confirmed by employees at the Lidcombe factory.

Integrated refused to comment yesterday.

Ms Promlee’s lawyer, Giri Sivaraman, said the case was one of the more blatant examples of racial discrimination he had come across.

“I just fail to understand how in modern Australia someone can be forced to sit a written test in English,” Mr Sivaraman, from law firm Maurice Blackburn, said.

“I was really surprised at the lack of assistance for someone who really needed it. Taking into account the type of work–they should have done better. I think labour hire firms are scared of injured workers. Over the last 10 years I’ve repeatedly advised people who couldn’t get work with labour hire companies because they were injured.”

Ms Promlee is also suing Integrated for breaching the Disability Discrimination Act on the grounds that it had refused her request to undertake limited duties while she was recovering from her injury.