What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 24 February 2020 – 1 March 2020

Unions and Employers Join Forces To Oppose Religious Freedom Bill

In a rare showing, Australian unions and employers have combined forces to oppose the Morrison government’s controversial religious freedom bill, fearing that it will disrupt workplaces and pit employees of different religious backgrounds against each other. In a joint letter to Attorney-General Christian Porter this week, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and the Australian Industry Group (AIG) criticised the government’s bill as ‘confusing, inappropriate and unfair.’ ‘Most concerningly, [the bill] presents a risk of harm to the staff and customers of Australian businesses,’ the letter said. The ACTU and Ai Group letter argued that the government’s amendments to the bill ‘do not adequately preserve the ability for employers to set standards of workplace behaviour to satisfy work health and safety obligations.’ ‘Under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, courts have given a broad interpretation to the circumstances in which an employer will be vicariously liable for the sexual harassment of its employees – including where the conduct occurred out of hours, off site and when the workers in question were not performing any function related to their employment,’ it said. The letter then expressed employers concerns that the draft will conflict with their obligation under workplace laws to provide safe environments free of bullying and harassment, risk damage to their reputations, harm productivity and make it harder to recruit and retain staff. The letter concluded that the provisions of the draft ‘are unnecessary, unworkable and will cause harm, disputation and confusion in Australian workplaces.’

Rise In Compensation Claims Filed By Women For Mental Stress

New data released by Safe Work Australia shows that women are making workers’ compensation claims for mental stress triggered by harassment and bullying twice as much male colleagues. The Safe Work Australia data also showed that the number of workers’ compensation claims lodged for mental stress triggered by harassment and bullying has risen since 2015. Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) assistant secretary Liam O’Brien said the data reflected ‘unacceptable’ rates.’ ‘This new data shows just how serious the impact of occupational violence, bullying and harassment and workload are on the mental health of working people and especially women,’ Mr O’Brien said. ‘We need new regulations to reduce the levels of psychosocial hazards in the workplace. We cannot simply continue to see more and more working people suffering mental and physical injuries every year,’ he added. The cost of these kinds of claims was highlighted by the Productivity Commission last year, which found that ‘the cost of [mental health-related] claims are typically around three times the cost of other workers’ compensations claims and involve significantly more time off work.’ However, Mark Goodsell, of Ai Group in NSW, said the Safe Work data did not accurately reflect how Australian workplaces were operating. ‘Because there is insurance associated with [mental stress] being a work-related claim, there is a tendency for it to be claimed as a work-related injury,’ Mr Goodsell said. While Safe Work acknowledged that its data serves as only a ‘limited indicator’ of the psychological and social health and safety status of Australian workplaces, the data was still shocking.

Allegations of Age Discrimination against La Trobe University

A former overnight security shift worker has accused La Trobe University of age discrimination, alleging that older employees were laid off during a contractor restructure. The dispute followed La Trobe University’s decision to change its security contractor at the beginning of 2020. The new company, MSS Security, decided to retain six of the thirteen existing guards. The seven guards who were not retained were all over 50 years old. ‘It wasn’t until later that we realised where they’d cut the line: the over-50s didn’t get a job and all the under-50s did,’ said Rob Byrne, the security shift worker who levelled the allegations against La Trobe. ‘I think it is a case of age discrimination, clearly. It’s very upsetting,’ he said. Byrne and six of his colleagues, all over 50-years-old, weren’t offered continued employed with MSS Security, while the six younger security guards were. Stephen Howarth, a 59-year-old guard who worked alongside Mr Byrne at La Trobe, was one of the men made redundant when MSS Security took over. ‘I felt completely humiliated through this whole process,’ he told 7.30. Mr Howarth has since lodged an age discrimination complaint with the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission. ‘I don’t want to see others go through the same thing, I don’t want to see anybody else go through this sort of rubbish,’ he said. ‘Older workers can do the job just as well as someone in their 20s and 30s, sometimes even better because you’ve got the experience,’ he added. The statistics show Mr Howarth’s complaint is not an uncommon one, with Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights commissioner Kristen Hilton saying she deals with about 100 age discrimination complaints each year. ‘[Age discrimination] might mean you’re missing out on a promotion, you’re not getting a job, you’re being dismissed, you’re being targeted for a redundancy or you’re being harassed because of your age,’ Hilton told 7.30. ‘That’s unlawful.’ ‘We are encouraging people to stay in the workplace longer, but we know that age discrimination is really prevalent,’ she said.