What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 21 August 2023 – 27 August 2023

Decrease in Sexual Harassment in Australia, Not Sexual Violence

Recent data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has shown that approximately 1.3 million women and more than 400,000 men have been subjected to sexual harassment in the last 12 months. According to the article, while women mostly reported inappropriate comments in relation to their body or sex life, approximately 400,000 related to unwanted touching or grabbing. The data shows that there has been a decrease in sexual harassment over the past five years. However, data in relation to sexual violence has found that there is no decrease, with 1.9% of women reporting they experienced sexual violence in 2021, a 1.2% increase from 2012 and up by 1.8% from 2016. The data found that, overall, “2.2 million women, more than one in five, experienced one or more incidents of sexual violence, defined as any incident involving the occurrence, attempt, or threat of sexual assault, since the age of 15.” Women aged 18 to 24 were the most likely group to report experiencing sexual violence and harassment, with 35% stating they had been sexually harassed in the past year. Additionally, the data showed that women who identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual or queer were five times more likely to experience sexual violence in comparison to heterosexual women. This group was additionally more than three times more likely to be subject to sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is defined in the ABS report as “behaviours which they found improper or unwanted, which made them feel uncomfortable, or were offensive due to their sexual nature.” This definition includes “indecent texts or calls, unwanted touching or kissing, inappropriate comments about their body or sex life or exposure to sexual pictures or material they did not want to see.”

Academic Says Digital Workplaces Can Result in Discrimination

CQU lecturer Dr Angelo Capuano has warned that artificial intelligence (AI) and digital workplace trends can result in discrimination against disabled individuals or people from disadvantaged or diverse backgrounds. Dr Capuano stated that “we know employers use cyber vetting to assess what they call ‘cultural fit’… and there’s new evidence that employers may now deny giving people jobs simply because the employer does not approve of the lifestyle choices they perceive on candidates’ social media profiles.” He describes it as “shocking,” stating that “certain lifestyle choices can be cultivated from upbringing and reflect our class, social and family background.” According to the article, Dr Capuano stated that recruitment algorithms may filter out socially and economically disadvantaged people, despite being promoted as positive for workplace diversity. Further, he states that “there are a range of medical conditions [that] can, and will, impact a person’s ability” when undergoing gamification in recruitment. He said that “people with disabilities will be disadvantaged, or people on the wrong side of the ‘digital divide’ due to their age, socioeconomic circumstances or upbringing.” Dr Capuano said that “digital workplaces and the changing nature of work from the fallout of COVID-19 creates new disadvantages at various intersections, especially at the synergy of ‘social origin’ and disability.”

Government to Introduce Laws to Prevent Employers Discriminating against Workers Experiencing Domestic Violence

Employment Minister Tony Burke announced this week that the government would introduce more reforms that would protect workers experiencing domestic violence from discrimination in the workplace. According to the article, the proposal forms part of Labor’s commitment to end family, domestic and sexual violence. Mr Burke believes that these changes to the Fair Work Act “will save lives.” Additionally, Mr Burke stated on Friday that “violence doesn’t discriminate and neither should the law.” He said that “that’s why these proposed changes are so important – ensuring that workers are not penalised in any way if they disclose that they have been subjected to family and domestic violence.” The bill would prohibit employers from taking action against employees who have been subject to family or domestic violence. The President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), Michele O’Neil, stated that the proposal was “another step forward in the campaign for gender equality.” Further, Ms O’Neil stated that “no worker should ever have to choose between their pay or their job and their safety, and economic security is a key factor in determining whether a person experiencing violence at home can escape a dangerous relationship or not.” She said that “knowing that employers cannot discriminate against victims and survivors in the workplace is an essential protection.” The Australian Parliament next sits on 4 September.

North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency Sued by Former Chief Executive Priscilla Atkins for Unfair Dismissal

The North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) has been sued this week by former chief executive Priscilla Atkins who claims she was unfairly dismissed. NAAJA provides legal support to Aboriginal people across the Northern Territory, where the rate of Indigenous incarceration “is the highest in the nation and rising.” According to the article, Ms Atkins’ employment was terminated in February of this year. Ms Atkins is seeking to be reinstated into her role, as well as damages. Ms Atkins has claimed that she was dismissed after she had made complaints of corruption against the chief financial officer Madhur Evans and chairperson Colleen Rosas. According to the article, Ms Atkins has alleged that “secret, unauthorised payments were made between Ms Evans and Ms Rosas.” Court documents state that “Ms Evans made payments to Ms Rosas without Ms Atkins’ knowledge or authority to which Ms Rosas was not otherwise entitled.” Further, Ms Atkins has claimed that Ms Evans made “significant” unauthorised transactions on behalf of NAAJA, used her work computer after work hours, recording workplace interactions and utilised the company credit card. Ms Atkins has also accused Ms Evans of bullying. NAAJA has denied all claims made against it, stating that it had “engaged a private firm to investigate an allegedly forged signature by Ms Atkins on her own 2020 employment contract ‘in or around late November’ last year.”

University Staff Asked to Come Forward to Report Sexual Harassment and Assault

Staff at universities are being asked to come forward and report experiences of sexual violence at work. There are concerns that the casualised nature of the workforce at university is “preventing people from reporting experiences of sexual violence at work.” As a result, the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has been prompted to conduct a ‘first of its kind’ post-pandemic survey within the university sector. The survey is an attempt to “determine the extent of educator assault and harassment.” The previous 2019 survey discovered that while rates of workplace harassment were comparable with the rest of the community, anonymous feedback forums were “putting staff at risk.” According to a Universities Accord discussion paper, approximately 50 to 80% of undergraduate teaching is carried out by casual staff. NTEU president Allison Barnes said that the casualisation of the workforce “makes them more vulnerable, they are scared to raise the issue, because they think they’re going to be seen as troublemakers.” The survey in 2019 discovered that “women were almost twice as likely to have been subjected to unwanted touching or cornering” and that “almost 40 per cent of staff did not trust the reporting process saying they were afraid of the impact reporting sexual violence would have on their careers.”

Rebekha Sharkie Accused of Bullying Former Staffer

Rebekha Sharkie MP has been accused of bullying a former office staffer in a Fair Work case. The former worker (Gaynor Slaughter) has alleged that a “course of bullying behaviour” led to her being unable to work since December 2022. The claim states that Ms Sharkie took “adverse action” against her by changing her hours in July 2022 due to Anthony Albanese’s decision to decrease the staffing allocation of crossbenchers. Ms Slaughter is seeking “compensation for medical expenses and lost earnings, as well as civil penalties for the alleged adverse action and failure to consult her about major changes, as required by staffers’ workplace pay deal.” Ms Slaughter claims that she experienced “anxiety and stress” when completing her work in her four-day roster each week. Further, she alleges that Sharkie informed her she was being reduced to three days a week due to the staffing cut, stating “’in a terse and sharp manner’ that if this was unacceptable, she should seek a redundancy package and leave.” Additionally, Ms Slaughter has alleged that she “was made to feel unwelcome in the workplace and ostracised.” According to the article, Ms Sharkie stated that “Ms Slaughter has always been supported in the workplace. Ms Slaughter has been offered support and flexibility with respect to her personal matters and any pre-existing health issues.”

Judge Urges Linda Reynolds and Brittany Higgins to “Make Peace”

A judge in the case between Liberal senator Linda Reynolds and Brittany Higgins’ fiancée David Sharaz has urged the parties to try and “find peace.” Ms Reynolds is suing Mr Sharaz in relation to a number of social media posts that were published online following Ms Higgins’ allegation that she had been raped by former colleague Bruce Lehrmann. According to the article, Ms Reynolds is claiming that four posts made by David Sharaz “seriously damaged her reputation,” with the claim currently before the Supreme Court of Western Australia. Ms Reynolds is suing Ms Higgins over similar claims. Lawyers for Mr Sharaz have argued that Ms Reynolds’ case is “manifestly weak” as the online posts “amounted to a drop in the ocean” in an otherwise “vast sea of publicity and media commentary.” Justice Solomon stated in his judgment that “it appears to me to be equally arguable that the volume of that publicity renders comments from those with the greatest proximity to Ms Higgins, such as Ms Higgins’ partner, all the more significant.” His Honour stated that “as in all matters, the court urges, and is anxious to assist the parties to explore means of resolving the dispute without the necessity of a trial.”