What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 25 February 2019 – 3 March 2019

ACTU Proposing Sexual Harassment be Protected under Fair Work
Over 100 organisations across Australia have signed up to a new initiative that seeks to stamp out sexual harassment. The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) is leading the charge, with President, Michele O’Neil, calling for state and federal governments to implement a new five-point plan. Ms O’Neil said that the current complaint process failed people who experienced sexual harassment at work. “It puts people in a position where taking action means launching a court case as an individual against a corporate respondent,” Ms O’Neil said. “This is expensive and protracted, it’s invasive and it often means re-victimising a person who has experienced sexual harassment,” she continued. The ACTU has instead proposed that harassment be brought under Fair Work legislation. Ms O’Neil said that this would allow people to pursue harassment claims through the workplace umpire. In addition to this, the five-point plan also called for stronger preventative measures. These ranged from strengthening employer’s legal duties in regard to sexual harassment, to more accessible reporting tools.

Former ABC MD Reaches Private Settlement
A settlement has been reached between the ABC and former Managing Director, Michelle Guthrie. Ms Guthrie launched an unfair dismissal case against the ABC after she was sacked by the public broadcaster last September. Throughout proceedings in the Federal Court, the ABC has maintained that Ms Guthrie was terminated because of issues with her leadership and management style. A statement released this week confirmed that the two parties reached a confidential settlement. The statement read, “the ABC and its former Managing Director Michelle Guthrie are pleased to announce a resolution to their Federal Court litigation.” The statement also read that “[n]o further public comment will be made regarding the resolution by the ABC or Ms Guthrie.” This resolution has marked the end of Ms Guthrie’s bid to be reinstated at the ABC.

Volunteers Don’t Have Same Protection from Sexual Harassment as Employees
Gaps in sexual harassment laws have left Australian volunteers feeling vulnerable and unprotected, a survey has revealed. The 2018 survey, conducted by ‘Justice Connect’, received over 323 submissions from volunteers in charity and non-for-profit sectors across Australia. The results from the survey highlighted concerns over the safety of volunteers within workplaces. These issues have largely been blamed on the absence of a national framework relating to volunteer’s rights. While employees are legally protected from sexual harassment under state and federal equal opportunity legislation, this is not the case for volunteers. For example, in Western Australia and the Northern Territory, there are no laws relating to sexual harassment of volunteers. One respondent bemoaned that “this creates a strange duality for the working woman; protected in the context of employment, but outside of that realm she’s fit for harassment”. In the wake of the survey results, Volunteering Australia and Justice Connect have been campaigning for stronger, nation-wide protections of volunteers and unpaid workers.

Allegations of Sexual Harassment Against Prominent QLD Surgeon Raised in Parliament
Allegations of sexual harassment have emerged against a prominent Queensland surgeon. This week, the Queensland Opposition used parliamentary privilege to reveal controversial allegations against the surgeon. Nine letters were received by Parliament, detailing numerous allegations of bullying, sexual misconduct and negligence. One complainant’s letter detailed how hospital management did not permit junior female doctors to train with the surgeon “for fear of exposing any more female junior surgical trainees to his sexual misconduct”. Opposition spokeswoman, Ros Bates, reprimanded senior clinicians and upper QLD hospital management for knowing about the concerns and failing to take action. “The situation seems to have been managed, but not dealt with,” Ms Bates told Parliament. Health Minister, Steven Miles, has since referred the matter to “the relevant bodies for investigation”.

Suicide Prevention Charity Says Apprentices Subject to Bullying
Suicide prevention charity, MATES in Construction, said that there’s an insidious culture of workplace bullying among young apprentices. Founder of MATES in Construction, Jorgen Gullestrup, said that “tradesmen often [see] bullying of apprentices as a duty. It’s part of hardening the apprentice up to survive the industry”. “Sometimes it’s just harmless fun, but sometimes it’s actually assault and threats,” Gullestrup said. Identifying this problem is difficult because “many apprentices do not come forward – they’re afraid of losing their apprenticeship, or their career”. CEPU spokesperson, Alex Capper, agreed with Mr Gullestrup about the difficulties of speaking up as a tradesperson. Capper said that “because it’s a blue-collar industry there is an attitude to suck it up. If you make a complaint or you point out that something’s gone too far, you’ll get labelled as weak”.