We must implement the known solutions to sexual harassment at work

We must implement the known solutions to sexual harassment at work

Monday, 16 August 2021

We have made two new submissions that recommend urgent and robust law reforms to prevent and address sexual harassment, within workplaces across Australia.

Our comments and recommendations build upon our Power to Prevent advocacy and are informed by the direct experience of Sexual Assault Services Victoria and Women’s Health Victoria, as well as our own practice experience advising people who have been sexually harassed at work and assisting them to take legal action.

Ensuring real change follows the Respect@Work Report

Our first submission covers the introduction of the Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021, which responds to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s landmark Respect@Work report. While we welcome the changes the Bill will make to federal law, it falls far short of what is required to eliminate gendered violence and harassment within workplaces.  

‘Sexual harassment is preventable, but it requires a whole of community response’ said Melanie Schleiger, Program Manager of Equality Law, in her oral evidence to the Parliamentary Committee that considered the Bill.

‘This Bill must go further to ensure that all employees, women in particular, feel safe and respected at work’, she said.

‘The Australian Human Rights Commission’s Respect@Work Report outlined 55 solutions to prevent and address sexual harassment and gender inequality at work. The Bill fails to implement this suite of solutions and will not result in the changes needed to ensure that employers take steps to prevent sexual harassment and other forms of gendered violence at work’, Melanie said.

One of our key recommendations is that there should be an enforceable positive duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment, with guidelines for compliance. This recommendation, which was in the Respect@Work Report, was echoed by many other organisations that took part in the inquiry, including the Minerals Council of Australia, the Law Council of Australia, the ACTU, Women’s Legal Centre ACT, and Job Watch.

‘We see victim-survivors navigate complex complaint processes and frameworks that fail to provide them with appropriate redress, hold people accountable or change workplace cultures,’ Melanie said.

‘The Bill has the potential to change this by requiring employers to take proactive steps to prevent sexual harassment and by giving the Australian Human Rights Commission powers and resources to effectively enforce this obligation’.

The Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee handed down its report on 9 August. It did not recommend that the Bill be changed to create a positive duty under the Sex Discrimination Act, although it noted that many organisations sought this change. 

The Bill is due to be debated in the Senate imminently.

Shifting focus – recognising and redressing the harms of sexual harassment in Victoria

We’ve also partnered with Women’s Health Victoria and Sexual Assault Services Victoria on a joint submission to help inform the Victorian Government’s work to better address and protect Victorians against sexual harassment in the workplace.

The submission’s proposed reforms focus on identifying gendered violence as a serious cultural and work health and safety issue that requires evidence-based primary prevention interventions, fairer laws, and more accessible and culturally sensitive support services, including counselling and legal services.

‘Urgent reforms are needed to prevent sexual harassment in Victorian workplaces, hold perpetrators accountable and support victim survivors to recover and receive redress. We hope the Victorian Government will use this opportunity to take a system-wide approach that lifts the burden of achieving these outcomes from the individual and delivers cultural and behavioural change,’ said Melanie.

More information

Read our submission on the Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021.

Read 'Shifting Focus: Preventing gendered violence and harassment at work and supporting victim-survivors', Joint submission with Women's Health Victoria and Sexual Assault Service's Victoria.

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