What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 12 Feb – 18 Feb 2024

Case against Perfection Fresh one of the biggest workplace sexual harassment and assault cases in Australia

Proceedings have commenced in the Federal Court, whereby 12 women, supported by the United Workers Union, are suing fresh product giant Perfection Fresh after working at Two Wells Glasshouse in South Australia and allegedly being sexually harassed.

As reported by The Sydney Morning Herald, the women allege repeated sexual harassment from two men in positions of “authority, trust and control”.

These allegations include instances of unwanted sexual advances, including grabbing the women’s bottoms and breasts, with one of the men accused of exposing himself to more than one woman.

According to national plaintiff law firm Slater & Gordon and the UWU, this action is one of the biggest workplace sexual harassment and assault cases in Australia.

Department of Infrastructure taking steps to reform workplace culture

The Department of Infrastructure has said it is taking steps to reform workplace culture following last year’s ‘hottie list’ scandal.

A list that ranked the perceived “hotness” of female employees at the department was rumoured to have been circulated by junior male employees.

“We’ve learnt some lessons from this and one of those is around having gender balance at all levels and in all cohorts,” he said. “We will never have a future graduate program where the gender balance is two-thirds male and one-third female.”

In the months since this story broke, Infrastructure has added a respectful workplace program to its four-week induction process, and a “team charter of acceptable behaviours”.

Allegations of sexually inappropriate behaviour inside the Royal Australian Navy

Allegations of sexually inappropriate behaviour inside the Royal Australian Navy have been referred to military police, with parliament being told the matter involves an “officer-only conquest club”.

Under questioning from Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie, the navy chief also confirmed he had referred a separate complaint of apparent sexual misconduct involving naval officers to military police.
Senator McKenzie told the committee she had been informed the allegations involved “a group of male officers in a WhatsApp group boasting about female conquests” who called themselves the “three-ringed wranglers”.

“I understand that a separate allegation relating to that had been raised, I was not aware of any context and nor do I seek to interfere with the ongoing officer inquiry — which may or may not have come across this term,” Vice Admiral Hammond responded.

“I haven’t heard it characterised like that, but I have heard it refers to a group of ADF members and unacceptable behaviour — I had it referred to me third-hand, and I’m not sure of the source.

“Noting that new information, I referred the allegation to the joint military police unit — that is fresh news and under investigation,” Vice Admiral Hammond added, while assuring Senator McKenzie the matter was being handled “very seriously”.

Results of staff survey conducted by the Department of Parliamentary Services

One in 12 people employed at Parliament House have reported feeling bullied and harassed at work, but no follow-up has occurred.

The findings were outlined in a staff survey conducted by the Department of Parliamentary Services.

Department secretary Robert Stefanic said there was a difference between an anonymous survey and formal reports of workplace abuse. “The survey is something that people report, I guess, in terms of their perception of whether they have been bullied or harassed,” Mr Stefanic said.

He said the confidential nature of the survey meant the department had no way of knowing who had experienced bullying or harassment, and no evidence to launch an investigation.

Senator Waters suggested cultural issues might prevent staff from making formal complaints, despite various reviews and reports into the workplace culture at parliament.

Investigation into incident at men-only Islamic event

A popular NSW water park has confirmed it is looking into an incident in which a “few bad apples” from a men-only Islamic event acted disrespectfully towards staff on Monday.

Female staff at Jamberoo Action Park, near Kiama, were allegedly harassed by young men at the Muslim “Brothers Day Out” event hosted by the Ahlus Sunnah wal Jam’ah Association of Australia (ASWJ), as first reported by the Illawarra Mercury.

The newspaper reported the group had booked the park to host 800 men and boys, some of whom called female staff “bitch” and “slut”.

It also was claimed the park was initially asked that female staff not work that day, before the group directed they must wear long sleeves and tights under their usual uniforms. An unknown number of staff ended up wearing tights underneath their usual red shorts.

The spokesperson said staff were encouraged to discuss their experiences and feelings with management – including those regarding disrespectful language – and these conversations were held in strict confidence and followed up in the most appropriate way.

Asked about the clothing requirements of staff, they added that when private events are held on days the park is closed to the public, as it is on Monday to Thursday at this time of year, “bookings may have their own operational requirements, from ticketing to catering of certain kinds”.

Review of harassment in legal profession

Progress made by South Australia’s legal profession in tackling bullying and harassment will be evaluated in a follow-up review, commissioned by the Attorney-General, starting today.

A 2021 review, undertaken by then-Acting Commissioner for Equal Opportunity Steph Halliday, found discrimination, sexual harassment and bullying were prevalent in the legal profession. There were 16 recommendations made to improve both organisational and workplace culture within the legal profession.

The 2024 follow-up review will be undertaken by Commissioner for Equal Opportunity Jodeen Carney and Assistant Commissioner Colin Marsh. Mr Marsh had also worked on the 2021 review. As recommended in the 2021 review, this review will focus on the effectiveness of the laws, policies, structures and complaint mechanisms for harassment and bullying.

The review will also address the extent and effectiveness of changes made as a result of the 2021 review.

Feedback is sought from:

• People who practise the law
• People who work, or who have worked in a workplace that provides legal services over the past 3 years

Set the Standard Report: there’s more work to be done

On the second anniversary of the second Set the Standard report, Parliament’s presiding officers say there’s still more work to be done.

House speaker Milton Dick and senate president Sue Lines issued a joint statement recommitting to the report’s recommendations.

“We acknowledge that an unacceptably high rate of people, particularly women, in Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces have experienced bullying, sexual harassment, or actual or attempted sexual assault whilst at work,” they said.

The Jenkins review into the workplace was established in March 2021 following a litany of reports about the toxic workplace culture in Parliament House.

Of Jenkins’ 28 recommendations, 13 have been implemented, six are partly implemented and eight are in progress, according to the Parliamentary Leadership Committee in February 2024.

Of particular relevance during a sitting week, parliament is likely to sit late to debate significant legislation on industrial relations, and modifications to the stage 3 tax cuts is the progress tracker’s assertion the issue of reviewing hours to “enhance wellbeing, balance and flexibility for parliamentarians and workers” is considered fully implemented.

Witness to sexual intimidation takes his own life

A prison officer who was a witness in a WorkSafe investigation into sexualised bullying and intimidation at a Bunbury jail has taken his own life.

The Department of Justice said it was “deeply saddened by the death of a long-serving officer from Bunbury Regional Prison”.

Bunbury Prison is in a race against time to convince WorkSafe that the jail is a safe place to have a job. In March, an investigation by the workplace safety watchdog uncovered institutionalised sexual intimidation.

The man who died on Friday night was part of that inquiry. Prison managers failed to meet two deadlines to make wholesale changes and the jail now has until March 31 to comply with WorkSafe’s orders.

WorkSafe investigator Louise Coubrough’s “improvement notice” of March 3, 2023, catalogued severe abuse.

Melburnian woman fired after revealing pregnancy

A pregnant working woman has alleged she was fired via text the day after revealing to her employer that she was pregnant.

Amy, a young Melburnian in her probation period at her full-time corporate job, had taken sick leave due to a “pregnancy-related illness” which she had a medical certificate for.

The day after revealing she was pregnant and on the day she was meant to return to the office, Amy got a text to say her employer had “decided to cease” her employment “due [to] excessive sick leave” while on probation.

Employees on probation receive the same entitlements as a person who isn’t in a probation period — which includes the entitlements in the National Employment Standards (NES) and protection from discrimination at work.

“If hired on a full-time or part-time basis, an employee on probation is entitled to accrue and access their paid leave entitlements, such as annual leave and sick leave,” the spokesperson said.

Worker fired after meddling with co-worker’s tasks

A worker recently challenged her employer’s decision to terminate her employment after the latter found her “overstepping” boundaries as she repeatedly ignored processes and designated workplace roles.

According to the Fair Work Commission’s (FWC) records, she was known for her dedication, working four days a week, often with additional hours and remote work. Her role shifted around January 2022, and another employee assumed some responsibilities, further lessening her duties.

Tensions arose when the worker was asked to step back from assisting a colleague, which she found challenging due to the “inconsistencies” she noticed in her colleague’s work. A warning was issued, emphasising the need to “stay within her lane.”

Despite no performance concerns in her January 2023 report, the worker raised workload concerns and a job role review request with the employer. This led to a meeting outlining the worker’s role, where her job was defined as managing accounts and the employer’s sign-ups.

Conflict arose when the worker questioned her co-worker’s approach to an invoicing issue in March 2023, with certain email exchanges and discussions about task division being discussed.

On 29 June 2023, the employer decided to terminate her employment. The reason cited was her continuous disregard for its processes and procedures and concerns about her conduct toward other staff members.
Shortly after, she received her termination letter and outstanding wages.

In its decision, the FWC said that the worker’s conduct “in repeatedly failing to do as she had been asked and overstepping the boundaries that had been set for her was a valid reason for the dismissal.” “This included entering a clinical session after having been told directly that this was not acceptable, and continually checking [her colleague’s] work after it was made clear that this was not appropriate and not her responsibility.”

Why businesses need to do more to help dads take parental leave

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency recently released its annual update on the state of workplace gender equality. It revealed the average total remuneration gender pay gap dropped to 21.7 per cent in 2023. While small, it’s still progress – the biggest shift since 2014.

What we can’t ignore from this report, and what we know from our parental leave coaching, is that the number of men taking paid primary carer parental leave has barely shifted. The report shows there’s only been a 0.6 per cent increase from 2022.

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s chief executive Mary Wooldridge says, “If we want real change, we need employers to take bold action. We need employers to look across the drivers of gender inequality and be imaginative in their solutions.”