The prevention of sexual harassment and other forms of gendered violence at work is core union business and a priority for the Australian union movement. Unions have for many years been calling for stronger and more effective measures to prevent, address and redress all forms of violence, harassment, discrimination and bullying at work, including sexual harassment and sex-based harassment. Workers who experience sexual or sex-based harassment must have access to fair, effective, efficient and confidential complaint mechanisms in workplace laws. Employers must be required to take reasonable steps to eliminate sexual harassment. It is crucial that our workplace, work health and safety, and anti-discrimination laws operate in a complementary and mutually reinforcing way to eliminate sexual harassment and sex-based harassment.
The National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces (the Inquiry) was announced by the government in June 2018 in the context of the #MeToo movement and national and global recognition of the serious harm and loss – to workers, to employers and to the national economy -caused by the problem of sexual harassment in Australian workplaces. The Inquiry – conducted by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins – was a world-first. The 930 page report is comprehensive, thorough, well-researched and informed by extensive consultations with a wide range of stakeholders. It makes 55 practical and carefully considered recommendations for reform to fix our broken system. The government made the right decision to commence the Inquiry and it must now accept the recommendations flowing from it.
The government’s response to Respect@Work falls well short of what the Respect@Work Report says is necessary to prevent sexual harassment and other forms of gendered violence at work. The government’s decision to refuse to take the actions recommended by Respect@Work – an Inquiry commenced by them – to end sexual harassment and other forms of gendered violence in Australian workplaces is unforgivable. Workers at Parliament House and countless other workplaces around the country who have had the courage to speak up about these injustices deserve much better. No worker should have to fear sexual harassment or any other form of gendered violence at work. The March4Justice Rallies demanded real change and the government must deliver. The time for action is now.
This submission details the shortcomings of the government’s response and makes recommendations for a series of amendments to the Bill to close the identified gaps.