What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 24-30 April 2017?

Age Discrimination Survey
The University of South Australia has surveyed 2100 men and women aged 45 years and over, to investigate their experiences in the workforce. More than 30% of respondents indicated that they had experienced age discrimination while employed or seeking work in the past 12 months. The most common forms of discrimination were limited employment, promotion or training opportunities, and the perception that older workers would “struggle to pick up new technology or work systems quickly due to their age.” The study found that the experience of discrimination varied between male and female respondents. Male respondents were more likely to report having experienced negative assumptions about their physical abilities or working pace, whilst female respondents were more likely to report that the organisation they worked for undervalued older workers as a group. The study found whilst age discrimination is prevalent within many industries, it is particularly prevalent in construction, administrative services, education, manufacturing, essential services, information technology and professional service industries. The study indicated that two-thirds of respondents left the workforce involuntarily, through redundancy and dismissal or because they felt that they had no choice but to retire. The decision to retire was often triggered by “negative experiences at work, with a colleague, management or client, or dissatisfaction with organisational changes.” The survey indicated, “people experiencing work-related ageism tend to report poorer health, lower household incomes and lower total superannuation fund balances, than those who have not had this experience.”

AOC Employee Stood Down Pending Investigation of Bullying Allegations
Australian Olympic Committee Media Director Mike Tancred has been stood down pending an independent investigation into allegations of bullying. Former AOC chief executive Fiona de Jong has alleged that Mr Tancred was involved in twelve instances of bullying dating back to 2004. Ms De Jong lodged a formal bullying complaint against Mr Tancred with the AOC on 15 December 2016. This complaint will now be referred to an independent committee.

90% Employees in Hospitality Industry say they have Experienced Sexual Harassment
United Voice has conducted a survey into sexual harassment in the hospitality industry, surveying more than 300 hospitality workers. Ninety per cent of respondents reported having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Nineteen per cent of respondents reported having been sexually assaulted in the workplace. The most commonly reported examples of sexual harassment included sexist comments (87%), comments about workers’ bodies (85%), sexual innuendos or insinuations (84%), unwanted sexual advanced (73%) and inappropriate touching (69%). Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins stated:
“Particularly for young women, the experience of sexual harassment and sexual assault is a lot worse than the community expects and assumes. Employers often just think it’s part of the deal.”
This was highlighted in the results of the survey, with 48% of respondents reporting that their employers did not take harassment in the workplace seriously.

2 Year Police Investigation of a Detective Regarding Sexual Harassment
A two-year internal investigation into allegations that Detective Senior Sergeant Paul Jackson sexually harassed five female colleagues is approaching conclusion. It is alleged that DSS Jackson “verbally harassed female police officers, administration staffers and government departmental workers” during his time in charge of the Child Protection Investigation Unit. During this investigation DSS Jackson has been serving in a “non-supervising” role after being transferred to another station. At the conclusion of the investigation, DSS Jackson is expected to face a disciplinary hearing at which he could be suspended, demoted or terminated.

Two other members of the Queensland Police Force have also received sanctions this month. A constable from Logan was suspended for allegedly grabbing the breast of a female office. A senior constable from Southport was dismissed for improper sexual behaviour.

Racial Discrimination Claim Against CEP Union
The Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union and its officials, Earl Setches and Tony Murphy, are the subject of a racial discrimination claim in the Federal Court. Former indigenous union organiser Jonathan Mullins has claimed that the CEPU leaders repeatedly “offended, insulted, humiliated and intimidated” him because of his race. Mr Mullins alleges that various CEPU employees made comments that racially discriminated against him. Mr Mullins claims that CEPU employees called him a “n****” and told him that he was “only half an Aboriginal.”

Mr Mullins also alleges that CEPU employees also racially discriminated against Indigenous apprentices who were part of the Indigenous trainee program run by the CEPU. It is alleged that Mr Setches referred to Indigenous apprentices as Abos”, called the indigenous trainee program “the Abo program” and wrote the word “Abo” on a whiteboard in the meeting room. It is alleged that Mr Murphy referred to Indigenous people as “black fellas” and indicated that he didn’t want Indigenous apprentices to earn more than “qualified plumbers in the CBD.” It is alleged that the CEPU provided substandard housing to indigenous apprentices, placing them in a house, which had rats, faulty wiring, faulty toilets and water running down the walls when it rained. When asked about the housing provided, it is alleged that Mr Murphy said, “the boys don’t know any better, they’re boys from the bush.” The CEPU’s Indigenous trainee program closed last year.

Investigation into Victorian Fire Brigade
The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission is currently conducting an investigation into the prevalence of bullying and harassment within the Metropolitan Fire Brigade and the Country Fire Authority. This investigation has uncovered a number of historical and ongoing practices. These include a hazing ritual that occurred at the end of recruitment courses where male and female recruits were required to climb to the top of a building and remove their clothing for a photo. It is alleged that investigators working on the review have also been informed of other practices including male firefighters bringing women back to the station after going out on the weekend, sexual acts occurring in employees’ offices and pornography being on open display within fire stations. It is also alleged that senior members of the MFB and CFA have rejected suggestions that recruitment panels should be required to attend gender equality training in order to address the bias that exists against hiring women. The VEOHRC Report will be published later this year.

Storage of Large Number of Sexually Inappropriate Emails Held to be Valid Ground for Dismissal
The New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission has found that the Mid North Coast Local Health District had a valid reason to terminate an employee who had stored 1256 inappropriate emails in a “funny emails” folder. These emails included 31 pictures of genitals, 30 pictures with partial nudity, 11 cartoon depictions of sex, 11 sexually suggestive emails, 32 with profanity, 18 ‘graphic’ or violent emails and 73 chain emails. The NSWIRC found that through the receipt, storage and transmission of these emails the employee breached the employer’s Code of Conduct and Communications Policy. Although this conduct provided the employer with a valid reason to dismiss the employee, the NSWIRC held that the dismissal was harsh in light of mitigating factors. These factors included the difficulty that the employee would face in obtaining alternative employment and her personal family and financial circumstances. The NSWIRC ordered the employer to compensate the employee through the payment of an amount equal to eight weeks pay.

Bullying Prevention Strategies Identified by Vic. Public Service Commission
The Victorian Public Service Commission has released a strategic agenda to tackle the issue of bullying. The VPSC People Matter Survey reported that one in four employees have witnessed bullying and one in five have experienced bullying. The VPSC has created a range of initiatives which are intended to allow the VPSC to gain insight into bullying behaviours across the sector, and to help agencies address and prevent them.

The second step of this process involved the VPSC studying five organisations that have experienced a signification reduction in employee perceptions of workplace bullying over a 5-year period. The VPSC investigated these organisations to identify common themes that addressed poor behaviour and improved staff wellbeing. The VPSC identified the following themes:
• Leaders modelling the values and taking decision action
• Setting clear processes for submitting and managing grievances
• Empowering staff through training in awareness and self-resolution before issues escalate
• Empowering leaders through training in conflict resolution, how to have difficult conversations
• Importance of communication, especially during periods of change
• Encouraging positive workplace behaviour through open, transparent communication, rewarding positive behaviours
• Focussing on organisation culture, health and wellbeing programs

In May 2017, the VPSC will release detailed case studies of these organisations. These case studies will assist the VPSC in the creation of a bullying prevention best practice guide in September – October 2017.