Work Research and Practice Hub Update

by Nareen Young

There’s not much good news right now, but here’s a good news story.

In January of 2020, Accor Hotels, who the Indigenous People and Work Research and Practice Hub has worked closely with over the last 10 months or so, had over 560 Indigenous employees. A large proportion of this workforce are employed in casual or part time and roles in food and beverage, front office and housekeeping teams at hotels across the country. Many of these people had come into the businesses via the Indigenous Employment Parity Initiative program.

Overwhelmingly, when Kirsten Gray and I conducted a research project into Accor’s Indigenous employees’ attitudes to the workplace in 2019, they loved their jobs and felt a sense of identity, ‘belonging’ and ‘family’ through them. Some people expressed that they would not have got their ‘foot in the door’ with any employer if not for the program, and individual committed managers had gone well and truly out of their way to welcome them and for the long term.

Of course, the usual problems of the manifestations of bias and racism existed in the workplace, as Australian workplaces reflect the society and communities they operate in, but what impressed us was the absolute willingness of the leadership of the organisation, and most importantly, the human resources function, not to ignore allegations of racism when we reported them as a result of conducting yarning circles with about 170 employees. It wasn’t everywhere and it wasn’t consistent, but of course it was there.

The HR function actually listened, and acted swiftly to deal with individual allegations, which was a revelation to me having dealt with both workplace equal employment opportunity policies and diversity practice for over twenty years. I’m used to it being denied, hidden and/or swept under the carpet, and I’m certainly not used to being believed by HR practitioners about allegations of racism in workplaces.

Moreover, the leadership of the organization sent out a strong cultural and organisational message of zero tolerance under any circumstances to the entirety of the businesses. They recognized that there’s no point going on endlessly about your ‘Indigenous commitment’ or RAP if the most basic of issues of racism that prevent Indigenous people from working to their ability have not been dealt with by workplaces.

Accor has been an absolute pleasure to work with in this regard, and I say this as someone who has worked, and had good and straightforward relationships with, many employers over the last couple of decades.

So it’s come as no surprise then, that when the tourism industry was hit by the corona virus last month, Accor has made every effort, in working with other employers who suddenly find themselves with myriad positions available, to place their employees elsewhere.

Firstly, Accor’s Indigenous Programs Team (IPT), who are the most excellent and dedicated team of Indigenous and non-Indigenous employment people, became aware of the possible stand-down of Accor team members. They immediately reached out to like-minded employers and Employment Parity Initiative partners to support wellbeing and future work for Accor’s Indigenous employees.

This is another good news story. Not often do we hear of sectors that are often competitive with each other, especially around Indigenous numbers, working together to confront an employment sector problem. Its unprecedented, as are many aspects of how this situation has been dealt with.

Other employers in mining, facilities services, insurance , health care, aged care, and government sectors immediately captured confirmed employment opportunities and began communicating directly with Accor’s team whom then shared via these opportunities directly with Indigenous employees

As a result, the broader Accor business then asked the IPT to repurpose itself and start working on behalf of the Accor Australian workforce of 12,000 people, up to 80% casual or part time as hospitality workers tend to be, mostly in Melbourne, Sydney or South East Queensland.

This is Indigenous employment practitioners practices leading the way for a whole business. I’m so very proud of them, all of whom I know well.

The IPT has now set up a process to capture expressions of interest (now over 1600 people nationally, including 40+ Indigenous employees) and they have developed a centralized portal with direct application links to all confirmed opportunities.

To date:

  • Over 40 organisations approached
  • 21 have confirmed opportunities for Accor team members, 15 work in progress, 6 not hiring or hiring exhausted
  • Indigenous specific opportunities have been presented by: Sodexo, St Vincent’s Health, Broadspectrum, IAG, Coles, Aboriginal Housing Limited & Australian Unity

As I said earlier, now is not a time of many good news stories, but if we can keep mob in work through a process of initiative, innovation and leadership by Accor’s IPT and goodwill of a group of employers, that is a very good news story.