In 2018, the Federal government commissioned a National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces to provide recommendations to increase protections against workplace sexual harassment. The Inquiry was led by Kate Jenkins, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner and the Respect@Work report was released on 5 March 2020.
After considering the report recommendations for over 12 months, the Government released ‘A Roadmap for Respect: Preventing and Addressing Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces’ on 8 April 2021.
The Government has committed to funding the implementation of these changes in the upcoming May 2021 budget and says it hopes to have legislation drafted by the end of June to implement the Jenkins sexual harassment report recommendations.
Disappointingly, the Government’s response fails to deliver:
- Stronger work health and safety laws to make sure that employers are obliged to tackle the underlying causes of sexual harassment at work;
- Better access to justice for workers in our workplace laws by prohibiting sexual harassment in the Fair Work Act and providing a quick and easy complaints process, and providing 10 days paid family and domestic violence leave as a national minimum employment standard;
- Stronger powers for the Sex Discrimination Commissioner to make decisions on which industries and workplaces to investigate and positive duties on employers to eliminate sexual harassment; and
- Ratification of the 2019 ILO Convention on the elimination of violence and harassment at work.
While there is widespread support for education, training and awareness raising, these failures are a missed opportunity for real change.
What has the government committed to?
- amending the Sex Discrimination Act to expressly prohibit sex-based harassment;
- amending the Fair Work Act to clarify that sexual harassment can provide a valid reason for dismissal;
- changing the Fair Work Regulations to include sexual harassment within the definition of “serious misconduct”
- amending the Australian Human Rights Commission Act to make explicit any conduct that is an offence under the Sex Discrimination Act can form the basis of a civil action for unlawful discrimination;
- changing the definition of serious misconduct across all workplaces to include sexual harassment. This allows employees to be fired for sexual harassment;
- extending the scope for workplace sexual harassment complaints from six months to two years;
- amending the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 to require public sector organisations to report to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency on its gender equality indicators;
- providing additional funding in the 2021-22 budget to three support services including community legal centres, Working Women’s Centres and the 1800RESPECT hotline;
- developing educational programs for primary, higher and tertiary education students;
- improving data collection and research methods for the purposes of creating evidence-based policy;
- developing jointly-funded programs between Commonwealth and state governments for psychosocial support for people affected by workplace sexual harassment; and
- enabling stop-harassment orders through the existing anti-bullying jurisdiction;