What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 2 October 2023 – 8 October 2023

Disability Services Minda Incorporated Fined $42,000 Following Sexual Assault of Worker

SafeWork South Australia (SA) announced this week that Minda Incorporated (‘Minda’) was fined $42,000 after a worker was sexually and physically assaulted by a youth in their care. The investigation conducted by SafeWork SA found that Minda had “failed to provide a safe system of work by not providing the worker with information about the behavioural risk posed by the client.” The youth disability worker, who was employed for a period of two months, had “not previously worked at the residence” with the young person who required 24-hour care. The worker had not been provided with information that the young person had a history of sexually inappropriate behaviour. During her shift, the worker was sexually and physically assaulted, which resulted in a psychological injury that prevented her from working for a period of four months following the assault. Deputy President Magistrate Katherine Eaton stated that “it is concerning that Minda is again to be sentenced for failing to properly manage a known risk to its workers of sexually inappropriate behaviour by a client.” Further, Magistrate Eaton stated that “crucial aspects from this case are that staff need to be made fully aware of the risks posed by the clients in their care and be provided with adequate information, instruction and training to mitigate the likelihood of being exposed to both physical and psychological harm.” Magistrate Eaton said that “the defendant failed to provide and maintain, so far as was reasonably practicable, safe systems of work which would have protected the worker from the risk presented by the young person.”

Western Australia Government Releases New Respect in Mining Program Resource Kit

The Government of Western Australia announced this week the introduction of the Respect in Mining program resource toolkit. The toolkit has been developed by Curtin University’s Collaboration for Evidence, Research and Impact in Public Health. The resources are included as part of a new strategy to help women feel safer working in the mining sector. The Respect in Mining program is a partnership between the Department of Communities and Department of Mines, Industry, Regulation and Safety. The partnership is an initiative of the Mental Awareness, Respect and Safety (MARS) program. The program aims to assist mining companies in setting clear policies and procedures in relation to expected behaviours, as well as “how to identify and appropriately respond to incidents of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace.” The toolkit includes, but is not limited to:
• Leadership commitment checklists;
• Leadership statements;
• A worker sexual harassment and sexual assault experience survey;
• A sexual harassment and sexual assault workplace audit tool;
• An internal reporting guide;
• A sexual harassment sexual assault policy; and,
• An implementation guide.

Women Still Waiting for Recommendations in Respect@Work Report

Women who have experienced workplace sexual harassment are still waiting for specialist services one year after the Respect@Work report was released. Last year, the government set aside $32 million in the October budget for the new women’s centres. The new centres aim to provide information, advice, and support to women in relation to workplace issues, as well as “education for employers on how to end sexual harassment.” Elena Rosenman, the board chair of Women’s Legal Services Australia, stated that “those services must be available to women.” Further, Ms Rosenman said that “the need was urgent in 2020, but I think at the end of 2023, when women’s trust in systems related to sexual violence has been so eroded, there has never been a more important time to have a visible, supportive, holistic service, working with women to resolve their matters and engaging with the community to prevent sexual harassment than there is right now.” The Department of Employment and Workplace Relations stated that “an open competitive grant opportunity will be run later in 2023 to identify organisations to deliver WWC services in jurisdictions that do not currently have a WWC in operation.” Further, the spokesman said that “funding for the 2023-24 financial year is expected to be disbursed in late 2023- early 2024.” Ms Rosenman stated that “as soon as funding is secured, we will be able to commence recruitment or expansion of those services.”

Gender Pay Gap Falls 5% Over Past Three Years, New WGEA Report Finds

Australia’s pay gap has decreased by more than 5% over the past three years among companies who are “committed to action,” according to a report released this week by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA). Despite this, researchers have said that closing the gender pay gap remains “many years off” due to many businesses failing to acknowledge that there is an issue. From next year, the gender pay gap within businesses will be made public by laws passed by the Federal government in 2022. Alan Duncan, the director of Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre, stated that “the increased level of reporting and greater transparency, greater demand from society and prospective employees that employers be committed to issues around diversity and inclusion, this is all going to contribute to greater commitments and more substance.” Businesses must have a minimum of 100 employees to report to the WGEA.

New University of Sydney Report Finds Discrimination and Disrespect in Legal Profession

A new report released by the University of Sydney this week has found that discrimination and disrespect are “all too common” within the legal profession. The report involved 33 in-depth interviews with senior stakeholders within the legal profession, an online survey of 766 practicing solicitors in New South Wales and seven online focus groups. Dr Meraiah Foley, lead author of the Designing Gender Equality into the Future of Law report, stated that “our research found women and men agree that significant gendered inequalities exist in the legal profession, and they see this playing out across multiple dimensions, including in relation to sexual harassment, bullying, access to prestigious cases and projects, treatment from clients, promotion opportunities, and support for work-life balance.” The report found that 78% of women and 53% of men that were surveyed agreed that sexual harassment was an issue within the legal profession, while 16% of women and 33% of men agreed that it was being adequately addressed. Dr Foley said that “these results suggest that recent advocacy around the issue of sexual harassment may have increased awareness of the problem.” Further, she said that “the fact that women were more likely than men to say that sexual harassment was a problem, and not being adequately addressed, likely reflects women’s relatively greater understanding and experience of harassing behaviours at work.” Cassandra Banks, the president of the Law Society of New South Wales, stated that “many firms and legal practices are already focused on gender equity and know the benefits of supporting all their talent.” Further, she said that “as I have previously acknowledged, the entire profession has a part to play in creating fairer workplaces.”

Workers at Conservation Council of Western Australia Allege Bullying

A dozen workers at the Conservation Council of Western Australia (CCWA) have alleged workplace bullying within the organisation. The claims allegedly relate to a three-year period, with an independent review conducted in January 2022. Staff who participated in the review have stated that they have not been able to read the full report or recommendations. All the staff involved have either quit or been made redundant. These individuals have called for the release of the report, a “governance systems overhaul” and a formal apology. The former Premier of the organisation, Carmen Lawrence, stated that “CCWA has identified a number of necessary changes to its management systems and implemented many new policies and procedures.” CCWA released a statement saying “CCWA has engaged in and attempted the resolution of specific complaints and claims with former employees, the details of which are necessarily confidential.”

Review Reveals Harassment, Sexism and Bullying at Productivity Commission

A recent review into the workplace culture of the Productivity Commission has found that staff have engaged in “sexism, harassment, bullying and discrimination.” The review found that there was a small group of men within the Productivity Commission who “set and dominated the culture.” One respondent stated that “any allegations like bullying and sexual harassment, management just want it to go away, and the way they make it go away is by ignoring it.” The review heard that women from the Melbourne office were informed to “watch out” for predatory behaviour when visiting the Canberra office for work. The review found that “the accumulation of inappropriate workplace behaviour incidents over a number of years has escalated and resulted in a workplace culture that was psychologically unsafe for a number of staff, particularly women and those from minority groups.” The review made 23 recommendations to improve leadership, workplace culture and staff supports, as well as improve identifying risks and the management of complaints. The review stated that “the commission leadership has an opportunity to reset the culture to ensure that it is actively inclusive of people from minority groups, and that incidents of inappropriate behaviour are dealt with swiftly, effectively, and utilising best practice.”

Alleged Rape of 13-Year-Old Girl at Perth Children’s Hospital Raises Sexual Safety Issues in Mental Health Wards

A thirteen-year-old girl was allegedly raped in 2022 by a male patient at Perth Children’s Hospital while she was being treated in the mental health ward. The girl, who has not been named, stated that “the night of the incident is still so crystal clear to me which is a blessing and a curse. What unfolded that night is something I’d never forget.” The girl stated that “knowing I’m not the only one genuinely shatters me.” The nurses on duty during the alleged offence had “sequestered” themselves within a nurses’ station. Further, the nurses did not complete their required hourly checks between 12:30am and 3:30am. The nurses were allegedly afraid of the male patient. A former mental health nurse, who has not been named, stated that “when a patient discloses to a nurse that they have been sexually assaulted in a ward, some staff might not take their report seriously.” More than 1,500 individuals have submitted reports of alleged sexual assaults and harassment within mental health wards in Australia during the past six years.