Pro Bono Australia has said that new changes to the Sex Discrimination Act may leave volunteers behind. While some volunteers and unpaid workers will be covered by federal legal protection against sexual harassment, the rules do not apply to volunteer run organisations. The term ‘employee’ has been replaced by ‘worker’ as defined in the Work Health and Safety Act, which means it now includes volunteers and unpaid workers, but only if there is a paid staff member in the organisation. Prior to these changes, volunteers did not have federal protection for sexual harassment and were unable to go to the Australian Human Rights Commission. Instead, they had to rely on other legal avenues such as state-based legislation. Western Australia does not have any clear avenue for complaint or resolution of sexual harassment against volunteers.
A delivery driver who sexually harassed a retail worker and then threatened to sue her for embarrassing and shaming him has had his appeal dismissed by a Supreme Court Justice. The driver, Frayne Higgins, was looking to overturn a decision made by Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Tribunal last year which found he had sexually harassed the retail employee and ordered him to pay $45 000. The employee earlier told the tribunal that, between 2013 and late 2014, Higgins would harass her when he was delivering stock to the Sanity store. The tribunal found that the employee’s evidence was ‘largely corroborated’ by others, while Higgins’s was ‘unconvincing’. He appealed the decision to the Supreme Court in Hobart but his appeal was dismissed this month and he was ordered to pay costs. Representing himself in court, Higgins vowed to take the matter higher, saying he believed ‘the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal has doctored and altered the transcript’.
Religious schools in Victoria will be prohibited from sacking or refusing to employee teachers because of their sexuality or gender identity under sweeping law reforms proposed by the government. The legislation to be introduced later this year will close the ‘unfair, hurtful’ gap in anti-discrimination laws that allows faith-based organisations to discriminate on the basis of sexuality, gender and marital status. Currently, religious schools are permitted to discriminate against LGBT teachers through school policies, employment contracts and hiring practices, including sacking teachers who come out as gay. The Victorian Attorney-General said the reform would narrow exceptions to anti-discrimination such that any discrimination would need to be ‘reasonable’ or an inherent requirement of the job. For example, a school couldn’t refuse to hire a gay or transgender person because of their identity but might be able to prevent that person being a religious studies teacher because of their religious belief.
A new report by the Australian Human Rights Commission has found most Australians (90%) agree that ageism exists in Australia, with 83% saying it is a problem and 65% believing it affects people of all ages. The report further found that ageism remains the most accepted form of prejudice in Australia, with 63% having experienced ageism in the last five years. The research found ageism is experienced in different ways. Young adults (18-39) are more likely to experience ageism as being condescended to or ignored, particularly at work. Middle aged people (40-61) are most likely to experience ageism as being turned down for a job.