Workplace Harassment Ban Passes

A significant labour law bill that specifically forbids sexual harassment in the workplace has been approved by the Federal Parliament. The change comes after the results of the fifth national study on the prevalence of this harassment, conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission, were made public. The results are both worrisome and heartening.

The House of Representatives approved the Senate’s amendments to the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Secure Jobs, Better Pay) Bill 2022, the first part of the Labor Government’s overhaul of workplace relations, this morning.

The Bill, which swelled from 249 to 273 pages after the revisions were included, as reported by OHS Alert in October, is meant to enhance job security, close gender pay discrepancies, modernise the workplace negotiation system, and foster wage growth (see related article).

Additionally, the Commonwealth Fair Work Act 2009 expressly forbids sexual harassment, complementing the newly implemented Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 obligation on employers to prevent sexual harassment (see related article).

The FW Act’s ban on harassment extends “broadly to protect workers, prospective workers, and anyone running companies or activities” and targets harassment done “in connection with employment.”

The prohibition is supported by a new structure for resolving disputes, and the FW Commission’s current authority to issue orders prohibiting sexual harassment will be combined with new authority on preventing harassment related to employment.

The new mechanism makes sure that anyone who requests a stop-sexual-harassment order from the FWC is not prevented from filing a civil lawsuit alleging discriminatory or coercive behaviour in connection with the same issue under WHS legislation.

The Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Act 2016’s primary goal is to promote “work health and safety in relation to building work undertaken by a constitutional corporation, the Commonwealth, or a corporate Commonwealth entity,” which facilitates the Government’s long-standing plan to abolish the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

In a joint statement released this morning, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Minister of Employment and Workplace Relations Tony Burke promised that their administration would “deliver a second tranche of workplace relations reforms next year to close the loopholes that are undermining job security and wage growth.”

Changes will have future “impact” on harassment, safety

With one in three employees reporting having experienced workplace sexual harassment in the previous five years, the AHRC’s fifth survey on sexual harassment in Australian workplaces found that rates are as high as they were at the time of the fourth survey, which was conducted in 2018 (see related article).

According to an AHRC release, the poll of more than 10,000 workers also revealed that “reporting of workplace sexual harassment remained dangerously low, at barely 18%.”

More women (41%) than males (26%) reported experiencing harassment, and more than seven in ten harassers (77%) were male, according to the study.

A third of Australian workers believed their organisations were not doing enough to avoid harassment, according to the 328-page study report, which also reveals that 50% of harassment episodes were repeated and 50% of those occurred for more than a year.

When the findings were announced, Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins remarked, “It is intolerable that so many Australian workers continue to face sexual harassment.”

Jenkins remarked that while the results are disheartening, it is not surprising that they are similar to those of the prior poll given that most of the recommendations from the [2020] Respect@Work report (see linked article) have only recently been implemented and some are still in progress.

“It will take time, but the efforts that governments and workplaces throughout Australia are now implementing will have an impact,” she said.

I implore them to keep pushing forwards with the changes so that the outcomes of the upcoming national survey can be much improved.

The new Respect@Work webpage (see related story), Jenkins stated, “provides information for workers and businesses on how to respond to events and resources to assist build respectful workplaces, free from harassment.”

Positively, the AHRC noted that the survey “showed rising appetite for reform.”

It stated that “almost 75% of respondents believed that the leaders of their organisation were dedicated to creating a safe working environment free of sexual harassment.”

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