Safe Work Australia has released a new work health and safety (WHS) guide to assist persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. The Preventing Workplace Sexual Harassment Guide provides practical guidance to help PCBUs meet their obligations under WHS laws to eliminate risks to health and safety of workers, so far as reasonably practicable. It does this by providing PCBUs with steps they can follow to prevent and respond to workplace sexual harassment. While the steps outlined in the guide are not mandatory, they establish a minimum standard that PCBUs must meet in order to discharge this duty.
An investigative report by the Retail and FastFood Workers Union reveals an “endemic culture of gender discrimination and sexual harassment” at Australian retailer, JB Hi-Fi. 83% of the 200 employees surveyed had experience at least one form of gendered harassment, including talk of hiring female staff based on appearance, comments about the bodies of female staff or customers, and use of gendered insults to insult female staff. Over half of staff had received unwelcome advances, touching, or invitations to go on dates. Nearly a quarter of respondents had received sexually explicit emails or messages and almost 20 per cent of responses had experienced requests for sex. The report states that these responses indicate a substantial disconnect between the experiences in the workplace and the value given to the contribution and work of women. Respondents had lost complete faith in JB Hi-Fi’s ability to deal with gender-based discrimination.
Amid a wider debate about the culture of parliaments following allegations a Liberal staffer, Brittany Higgins, was raped by a colleague, the Victorian Parliament has proposed a revamp of the laws governing politician’s behaviour. The power to fine, suspend or expel an MP could be handed to a new independent commissioner who would be able to bypass the Parliament and, for the first time, sanction rule-breaking MPs. An alternative proposal suggests the Commissioner, expected to be a former judge, could make a recommendation to Parliament about the appropriate sanction and the Legislative Assembly choose whether to impose it. The impetus for better protections for political staff was Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s agreement to commission an independent review into the workplace culture inside Parliament House in Canberra.
According to a confidential 2020 staff survey of the department’s employees, bullying and sexual harassment are rife in the House of Representatives. The survey was completed by 124
staff of the Department of the House of Representatives. It outlines employee issues including working conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic and workplace flexibility. 13 per cent of respondents said they had experienced discrimination “on the basis of my background or a personal characteristic.” Gender was among the most common reasons cited for the discrimination. 11 per cent said they had been subjected to harassment or bullying in the department. Notably, many responses include an accusation that formal complaints are met with no investigation or punishment from above. The findings of the survey have led to calls for mandatory sexual harassment and bullying training for all MPs and senior staff, and the establishment of a complaints process that guarantees independence.