What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 16 September 2019 – 22 September 2019

WA Premier Mark McGowan Accuses MUA of Bullying

West Australian Premier Mark McGowan has made bullying accusations against the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA). The Premier’s comments were prompted by a community meeting that was convened by the McGowan Government to discuss it’s contentious plans for an outer harbour port. It is reported that at the meeting, members of the MUA repeatedly heckled and yelled at the West Australian Premier. Speaking to Parliament this week, Mr McGowan brandished members of the MUA as ‘un-Australian bullies’. ‘I was shocked and appalled by some of their conduct … I find this behaviour completely and utterly disgraceful’, he said. Transport Minister Rita Saffioti and Ports Minister Alannah MacTiernan also expressed their disgust, labelling the union’s conduct ‘disgraceful’ and ‘ridiculous’.

Proposed Religious Discrimination Law Could Hurt Others in The Community

Earlier this month, the Commonwealth Attorney General, Christian Porter, released a draft of the Religious Discrimination Bill 2019 as a part of the Government’s bid to secure religious protections. The Bill proposes to protect from ‘discrimination on the ground of religious belief or activity, and for related purposes’. This would allow religious people to ‘express their beliefs and conduct religious activity and would be overseen by a new Religious Freedom Commissioner’. The main purpose of the Bill is ‘to ensure religious people cannot be discriminated against and treated negatively because they choose to express their religious beliefs and conduct religious activities in accordance with their faith’. Regarded as a controversial piece of legislation, the Bill has the potential to offer significant protection to religious people who can show they were acting reasonably in accordance with their faith. It has been suggested that the Bill will be revised soon with input from the Opposition. The changes could provide more clarity; however, it is likely that successful passing of the Religious Freedom Act 2019 will weaken the existing discrimination and religious freedom legal frameworks.

SmartCompany Reports on Employee Chronic Illness

According to the Australia Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 33% of Australian’s have been diagnosed with at least one chronic disease. As SmartCompany write, ‘the first step in [an employer] meeting [their] moral and legal obligations to employees with chronic illnesses is to get educated’. Under disability discrimination law, an employer is prohibited from treating someone less favourably because they have a disability. Employers are also obligated under law to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to the ways in which the role is performed in order to accommodate the employee’s diagnosis. This obligation is assessed by reference to a ‘reasonableness’ standard, which will depend on different circumstances. In most circumstances, however, it will be reasonable to adjust employment conditions to allow the time and flexibility needed to attend medical appointments or manage symptoms. Typically, an employee battling chronic illness is able to take up to three months off over a 12-month period, consecutively or in broken periods, before it would be considered reasonable for an employer to seek to terminate their employment, due to their ill-health. Throughout that period, the employee is entitled to access paid or unpaid sick leave, depending on their accrued leave entitlements.

Employee Mocked For Brave Pursuit

A former Bunnings Warehouse employee has commenced proceedings in the Victorian Supreme Court after being mocked by fellow employees for chasing down a machete wielding shoplifter. Brett Wolff Jacques, who was employed at a Bunnings Warehouse franchise in Melbourne, claims he was ridiculed by his colleagues. Wolff Jacques alleged, in a statement of claim lodged with the Victorian Supreme Court, that his workmates cruelly referred to him as ‘detective’ over his brave pursuit of the suspected thief. Following the shoplifting incident, Bunnings continued to roster him in the same section of the premises, which, Wolff Jacques claimed ‘aggravated’ his ‘psychiatric symptoms’. Mr Jacques further claimed that he was subjected to ‘repeat unreasonable treatment’ by his colleagues. ‘Employees of the defendant at the premises subjected the plaintiff to comments and treatment of a bullying and demeaning nature, including deliberately clapping in order to startle the plaintiff, and calling the plaintiff ‘detective’,’ the writ stated. Mr Jacques’ legal team are pursuing damages for severe psychiatric injury including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, major depressive disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, chronic adjustment disorder with depression and anxiety, suicidal ideation.