One of the things that I enjoy about having a teaching gig, is that I learn something each semester.
This semester, on Monday just gone, it was something entirely different.
I posed a question to the class about workplace ethics. I asked them what they believed the responsibility was, for employers, with regard to discrimination: discrimination by virtue of gender, ethnicity, weight, etc.
What happened was remarkable. Instead of a discussion on some hypotheticals, what I got was a study in personal experience of all the above and much more. Each one of the students felt that they had been mistreated. Several, who had worked at fast food places while at school, talked about how managers had been abusive to them. One talked about her employer failing to pay her for weeks on end. Another talked about how her employer (a well known clothes retailer) had failed to make superannuation contributions for months at a time, totalling thousands of dollars. Yet another talked about only being allowed to take a few minutes for lunch break, and when he complained, was told to “eat faster”.
Several of the students had, because of their experiences, placed calls to the Office Of Fair Trading or to the NSW Ombudsman.
I asked the female students whether they had witnessed or experienced any sexual misconduct in the workplace. The overall majority of students of a class of 20 had, to my surprise, become directly aware of such behaviour. More disturbing, was that they all felt that jobs are sufficiently hard to come by, and whistleblowing sufficiently frowned on, that they felt that they needed to put up with it if they wanted to stay employed.
I told them that this was utterly unacceptable. I told them that they have a responsibility not only to themselves but to society as a whole to root out this kind of conduct. However, to do that, they need to be given the tools and the methodologies to enable them to know what the processes are.
I am not particularly in favour of creating even more regulations in a society that I feel is far too regulated as it is. However, I believe very strongly that it is utterly wrong for young people just starting to come into contact with the “real world” to feel that they just need to shut up and take it. To me, that smacks of the culture that has been promulgated by the Catholic Church for so many years.
The only way to counter this, is for educators (and by that I mean the institutions who set the courses, rather than the individuals) to realize that they have an obligation to their students and to the taxpayers who provide their wages, to deliver to the students information that is going to prepare them for the real world and not just a bunch of theory that is not going to be useful.