Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has promised to draft a code of conduct to implement recommendations from the report made by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins into parliamentary workplace culture. The federal parliament’s standards committee is in the process of taking submissions for the code of conduct. This week, the committee received advice from Kathryn Stone. She leads the independent commission that investigates possible breaches of the House of Commons code of conduct in the UK. She recommends that Australia follow the UK’s model by having simple and clear rules that can be enforced.
The first week of August is Homelessness Week. The Equal Opportunity Commissioner released a statement highlighting a link between homelessness and discrimination. The Commissioner focused on three major grounds of discrimination – sex, impairment, and race – that relate to three major groups within the homelessness population. The Commissioner identified that family violence is the most common reason people require homelessness services and acknowledged that initiative is being taken to support women at work who may be experiencing family violence. The Commissioner noted that domestic and family violence is not yet a ground for discrimination under the Equal Opportunity Act. He called for law and policy makers to seriously address homelessness by identifying where systemic discrimination is occurring, including at work.
The Social Services Minister, Amanda Rishworth, has expanded the 1800 RESPECT online helpline to provide support to victims of workplace harassment. The hotline is confidential and has been used to support people experiencing sexual assault. Ms Rishworth has committed to broaden the service further to include video conferencing and text messaging services. This change is expected to occur in July 2023. The expansion of these support services follows key recommendations from the sexual harassment inquiry conducted by the Human Rights Commission in 2020. Ms Rishworth has experienced strong views that the 1800 RESPECT service has to keep up with modern times.
This week the Victorian Government responded to the recommendations from the Ministerial Taskforce on Workplace Sexual Harassment. The Taskforce was established on 8 March 2021 and proposed 26 recommendations that came within four broad categories: (1) preventing sexual harassment from occurring; (2) supporting workers to report sexual harassment; (3) enforcing compliance where there is a breach of health and safety duties; and (4) raising awareness and promoting accountability in workplaces across Victoria. The Government has committed and accepted 21 of the 26 recommendations. Twelve of these recommendations are accepted in whole; two of these accepted in-part; seven accepted in-principle; one is noted; four are subject to further consideration.
Melbourne’s Swinburne University of Technology has launched a Gender Equality Action Plan (GEAP) and revised its Science Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) action plan. The action plans were launched by the Vice-Chancellor, SAGE leader, and Public Sector Gender Equality Commissioner. These action plans demonstrate positive action towards workplace gender equality, following Swinburne’s obligations under the amended Gender Equality Act 2020. GEAP will stand as the action plan until 2025. Sexual harassment at Australian universities has been of particular concern following the alarming responses to the national university student survey on sexual assault and sexual harassment conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission in 2015.
After a three-year investigation, Bakers Delight was found to have breached Victorian laws designed to prevent workplace discrimination. The review was conducted by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission. In Victoria, employers have a positive duty to prevent workplace sexual harassment. The federal government has promised to implement this duty on a national level. Bakers Delight breached its duty in failing to have a sexual harassment prevention plan or recording mechanism. Its training was considered inadequate. Bakers Delight has since expressed plans to introduce training for staff and in-store or social media messaging on appropriate customer behaviour.