What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 12 – 18 July

Federal Parliament’s Sexual Harassment Training for Politicians Will Be One Hour and Optional

The Community and Public Sector Union has condemned the proposal for one-hour training for Australia’s federal members of parliament as a “tick and flick exercise.” Details obtained from tender documents have revealed that Government is seeking an organisation to provide training covering a “safe and respectful workplace.” The training, which deals with sexual assault, bullying and harassment in Parliament, will not be delivered until September at the earliest, will feature only an hour’s content and will be optional for members of Parliament. By the end of the session, managers and MPs should be able to understand “behaviours that do or do not constitute assault, sexual assault, sexual harassment and serious and systemic bullying and harassment.” They also should be able to understand workplace health and safety obligations as an employer. The training will provide practical examples of how to prevent instances of assault, harassment and bullying, as well as how to support survivors. National Secretary of the CPSU, Melissa Donnelly, said “the proposal for optional one-hour training will not meet the desperate need to educate parliamentarians, senior staff and office managers on protecting staff from sexual harassment and bullying.”

Employer Wins Discrimination Exemption to Improve Gender Representation

Bluescope Steel has won a discrimination exemption which will allow it to prioritise the recruitment of female workers. It comes after the company filed an application with the Victorian Civil Administration Tribunal (VCAT) seeking an exemption from prohibitions against gender discrimination in the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic). They sought to use advertisements targeted at women for roles prioritised for female appointments. In support of its application, Bluescope noted that less than 12% of its workforce identified as female, despite previous recruitment efforts, requiring a more proactive approach. They noted that “unconscious biases and historical practices” had resulted in women being less likely to be employed by the organisation, and that it aimed to improve gender representation to “level out the playing field and achieve a more diverse and inclusive workforce.” The tribunal sought submission from interested parties during the application process. Of the 13 written submissions (mostly from existing employees of BlueScope, male and female), 11 strongly opposed the exemption. A range of concerns were expressed including a concern that females would be employed without reference to ability or qualification; concerns of the negative impact this would have on current and future female employees who may be perceived as being employed based on gender rather than ability; and questions about the efficacy of achieving statistical gender parity without understanding why the imbalance existed and the role gender differences might play in this. The VCAT, in granting the exemption, noted that it gave weight to the submissions received but was satisfied that BlueScope had made it clear in its application that all female candidates offered employment would need to be qualified for the position. It further noted that the less restrictive initiatives BlueScope had already undertaken had had limited success, and that the exemption was reasonable and justified.

Women In Politics Join Calls for Code of Conduct In Parliament

Federal members of parliament from across the political spectrum have called for greater representation in parliament and a code of conduct to create a safer and more equal workplace. Several MPs attended a summit run by ANU’s Global Institute for Women’s Leadership this week, where they described the culture in politics as a “toxic boys club” with a “sexist underbelly.” The institute was founded by Julia Gillard to examine the underrepresentation of women in leadership roles. The two-day event brought together academics, politicians and political staffers to establish a model code of conduct for Australia’s parliament. It will be formally submitted to the Independent Review into Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplace led by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins.

Fair Work Commission Seeks Deferment of Anti-Sexual Harassment Orders

The Fair Work Commission has sought to delay the roll-out of new Stop Sexual Harassment orders, warning that a spike in claims and insufficient funding would hamper the commission’s ability to carry out the new regime. The Senate inquiry into the Respect@Work bill heard that a two month postponement was required as “there is a significant risk that the commission’s capacity to successfully implement the new jurisdiction and uphold the interests of vulnerable parties will be compromised.” They noted that the new regime would require “intensive case management” and that the “timely resolution of applications is essential in avoiding further harm.” Furthermore, the FWC expressed concern that the jurisdiction would be compromised due to an expected surge in claims as public awareness of workplace sexual harassment heightens.