Australia has the power to prevent workplace sexual harassment

Australia has the power to prevent workplace sexual harassment

Thursday, 25 June 2020

Everybody deserves to feel safe, confident and respected at work.

Recent reporting of an independent inquiry into the actions of a former High Court Justice has once again placed a spotlight on the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. It again highlights the barriers women face in reporting and addressing harassment at work. 

We know from numerous inquiries and reports that even where workplace sexual harassment takes place multiple times, in front of witnesses, and where victims take detailed notes, that bringing a complaint is incredibly challenging.

Even when complaints are made by victims internally or externally, rarely do these lead to systemic change in workplaces and stopping future sexual harassment.

Barriers to reporting workplace harassment are often exacerbated for women experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage who Victoria Legal Aid assists.

Victoria Legal Aid renews its support for the Joint Statement by the Power to Prevent coalition for the Australian Government to make changes needed to make all workplaces safer, healthier and more respectful.

The Australian Human Rights Commission’s Respect@Work report – released in March this year – highlighted how our current laws are failing to prevent sexual harassment at work. We know there are rarely consequences for perpetrators or real changes in workplaces to prevent future harassment.

This example of workplace sexual harassment reminds us of the need for governments to strengthen laws to require employers to take meaningful steps to prevent sexual harassment, remove barriers to making complaints, and hold perpetrators to account.

Workplace sexual harassment is a problem across a range of industries and professions, including the legal profession. Victoria Legal Aid is committed to providing and advocating for safe and respectful workplaces for all of us.

Everybody deserves to feel safe, confident and respected at work.

Power to Prevent coalition’s recommendations

  • Invest in dedicated primary prevention efforts to address the underlying drivers of sexual harassment. These efforts should be part of a holistic strategy to prevent violence against women and promote gender equality in line with Change the story: A shared framework for the prevention of violence against women and their children in Australia.
  • Work health and safety laws in all jurisdictions should be amended to create an effective framework to prevent and address sexual harassment.
  • Commonwealth, state and territory work health and safety agencies should be resourced, empowered and trained to effectively address sexual harassment.
  • Commonwealth, state and territory anti-discrimination laws should impose an enforceable positive duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment.
  • Human rights commissions in all jurisdictions should be granted increased powers and resources to effectively address sexual harassment.
  • A series of reforms are required to provide fairer and more accessible complaint systems (this includes proposed reforms in relation to burden of proof, time limits for bringing complaints and costs orders under anti-discrimination legislation).
  • Specialist support services should be funded to assist people who have experienced sexual harassment.

More information

Read the the Joint Statement by the Power to Prevent coalition

Read the The Australian Human Rights Commission’s Respect@Work report

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