What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 11 May 2020 – 17 May 2020

School Principals Experience High Rates of Bullying and Workplace Violence

The latest report by Health & Wellbeing has provided a sobering picture of Australia’s treatment of school principals. Over the last nine years, the survey has examined issues of bullying, physical violence, gossip and slander, sexual harassment, threats of violence and verbal harassment toward school principals. In 2019, the report surveyed more than 2,000 Australian principals. It found that more than 40% of principals reported experiencing physical violence, compared to the 27.3% in 2011. Harassment and threats of violence toward principals also increased from 37.8% in 2011 to 51.0% in 2019. In the latest survey, principals also reported experiencing levels of burnout, stress and sleep difficulties 1.6 times higher than the general population. The report identified parents, students, co-workers, regional management and State Departments as the main culprits. In response to the 2017 Healthy & Wellbeing report, Victoria implemented recommendations to its work practices. The Victorian government ‘allocated $4 million to conduct principal health checks and implement well-being strategies which included a principal mentoring program, an early intervention program and free health consultations.’ The State also appointed a principal health and well-being expert to the Victorian Department of Education and Training. Following this action, Victoria now boasts the lowest rates of self-harm, poor quality of life and poor occupational health among school principals. Victorian principals also reported the highest level of job satisfaction. These results suggest that systematic approaches are effective and should be favoured over approaches which seek to address challenges on a school-by-school basis.

Covid19 Negatively Impacting Employment for Vulnerable Groups

Recent employment figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) have highlighted the devastating impacts of the coronavirus on Australia’s labour market. The figures, released on Thursday, revealed that 600,000 jobs have been lost in Australia’s shutdown. This resulted in the unemployment rate jumping one percentage to 6.2 per cent. The report also estimated that in April 2020 there were also approximately 900,000 Australians working less hours than normal. While the figures reflected the devastating realities of the pandemic, some experts have warned that the numbers don’t capture impacts on vulnerable groups in society, such as culturally diverse workers. Tim Lo Surdo, Director of racial and economic justice advocacy group, Democracy in Colour, said that ‘[i]ndustries being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 already have people of colour and migrant workers over-represented as employees.’ ‘They are in highly casualised industries like health, aged care, hospitality and cleaning services, and many before COVID were already earning poverty wages,’ he said. Lo Surdo concluded that it’s a double whammy for Asian workers, given the political and economic climate. ‘We have had a really racialised narrative around coronavirus,’ Lo Surdo said. ‘We have had months of vilifying Asians, blaming Chinese people for the virus and lots of racist stereotypes. And of course, this is going to have an impact on employers when they are recruiting, and [there will also be] a spike in racial abuse in the workplace which we have started to see,’ he told 10 Daily. A study conducted by Australian National University (ANU) in September 2019 confirmed that Asian-Australians already face high rates of discrimination, with two-thirds of respondents reporting discrimination in the workplace. One of the study’s co-authors, Jieh-Yung Lo, said the recent upsurge of COVID-19 inspired racism will likely lead to an increase in bias toward Asian-Australians in recruitment practices and the workplace. ‘The last thing we want to see is COVID-19 being used as an excuse to reduce ethnic and cultural diversity in workplaces. Employers and workplaces have an important role in eliminating racism and discrimination in society,’ Lo said.

Former Kott Gunning Employee Suing for Disability Discrimination

A former employee of Kott Gunning Lawyers took the Western Australian law firm to the Federal Court over claims of unlawful bullying, harassment and discrimination. Haydyn Hastwell alleged that Kott Gunning used his pre-existing anxiety condition against him as grounds to terminate his employment. Dr Claire Hollo, the occupational therapist who examined Mr Hastwell, submitted to the Federal Court that his anxiety was ‘exacerbated’ by the behaviour of Kott Gunning staff. ‘The heightened level of anxiety was later compounded by severe depression.’ ‘This behaviour also had the secondary effect of creating avoidance on the part of Mr Haswell that had a flow-on effect to social isolation even to the extent of moving interstate,’ said Ms Hollo. In its defence, Kott Gunning claimed that ‘Mr Hastwell did not intend to return to work after his long period of absence and that the relationship broke down while he was not working.’ The firm subsequently lodged an interlocutory application seeking permanent stay of the proceedings which was granted with the court ordering that Mr Haswell pay Kott Gunning’s costs.