What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 25 September 2023 – 1 October 2023

Disability Royal Commission Hands Down Final Report, Makes 222 Recommendations

The long-awaited final report from the Disability Royal Commission was released this week following a 4-and-a-half-year investigation into Australia’s disability care sector. The report consists of 12 volumes and suggests 222 recommendations. It is the largest investigation into the experiences of Australians with disabilities. Some of the recommendations include updates to the Disability Discrimination Act, such as the creation of a positive duty to private and public sectors to prevent disability-related discrimination; ensuring greater alignment with the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD); the introduction of a Disability Rights Act; and the creation of a National Disability Commission. The president of the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) stated that “the release of the report is a truly historic and transformative moment for the disability community specifically as well as Australian society more broadly.” Further, Professor Rosalind Croucher AM stated that “whether it is in homes, workplaces, schools or on the street, whether it is in the city, the country or remote communities, or whether it is in relation to the policies and programs of both the public and private sector, we now have comprehensive and irrefutable evidence of the personal anguish and systemic inequity that many people with disability and their families are confronted with throughout their lives.” Disability Services Minister Bill Shorten described the findings of the Disability Royal Commission as “harrowing,” saying that “this royal commission is genuinely a historical moment and it does remind Australians that for too many people with disability, they’re subject to violence, abuse, exploitation, neglect and exclusion.”

Tribunal Finds Manager Discriminated Against by KFC

A tribunal has found this week that an assistant manager at KFC in Tuggeranong was discriminated against after not being provided adequate support for breastfeeding. The woman was denied the flexible working conditions she had expected after returning from maternity leave after having worked for the company for several years. The managers at the Tuggeranong KFC had informed her that she was unable to leave the restaurant to breastfeed due to health and safety reasons. The manager suggested that she could alternatively breastfeed in an unlocked storeroom and had provided her with a “toilet tent to sit in so other staff could not see her.” The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Civil and Administrative Tribunal was informed that the woman had “felt pressured to wean and feed her child formula” and to “take a casual job.” The tribunal stated that the woman “was shocked that such a large company as KFC did not educate their leaders on how to support breastfeeding women returning to work, and that KFC did not appear to have any policies or procedures for circumstances such as hers.” The tribunal found that the direction to leave the restaurant “is not a reasonable response to the needs of a modern workforce.” It said that “it is difficult to imagine how the respondent considered that such a solution would be satisfactory to [the woman] or any other employee in that situation.” Further, the tribunal said that the use of a tent for breast pumping “would, in the tribunal’s opinion, make the applicant uncomfortable, if not in a constant state of fight or flight.”

Female Doctors More Vulnerable to Sexual Assault in Hospitals

Dr Louise Stone, an associate professor at the Australian National University (ANU), has found that female doctors feel more vulnerable to sexual assault and harm from senior colleagues due to work conditions in hospitals. Dr Stone stated that “[they described] the enforced closeness that can occur in long sessions in operating theatres.” Further, Dr Stone said that “[the] emotionally intense experiences in traumatic situations, and relocation to rural hospital environments where they had little support and lived in hospital accommodation.” Dr Stone described that female doctors have reported a “boys’ club culture,” which resulted in lower confidence and sense of self. One instance found a male specialist registrar “thrusting” against a female junior doctor. Dr Stone stated that “you are taught in medicine to protect the patient no matter what, even if you are struggling.” She said that “it put her in an untenable position, but she still asks herself what she could have done differently. What was she supposed to do, turn around and belt him in front of the patient?” The female doctor described that she felt she was “going mad,” which made her “feel even more unconfident and uncertain” about herself. The doctor said that she had “difficulty believing that his behaviour was actually real” following the alleged assault. Dr Stone stated that “survivors fear losing their reputations, their training positions and their careers if they report the abuse.”

Tasmanian Attorney General Resigns Following Bullying Claims, Investigation Launched

The former Tasmanian Attorney-General Elise Archer has faced claims this week that she engaged in bullying and inappropriate behaviour. Ms Archer resigned this week after at least two current or former staff members raised allegations with the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner. Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockliff confirmed that an investigation had commenced after concerns were raised “through a third party.” Ms Archer stated that she took the claims “extremely seriously,” saying that she had not been provided with the “factual particulars of the matters that have been raised.” Further, Ms Archer said that “I always strive to provide my team with a happy and healthy workplace.” Ms Archer stated that “I deeply value the exceptional work of my team, many of whom come to me for short periods of time from departments, and who have diligently performed the challenging work required of ministerial staff.” Ms Archer was first elected in 2010 and has been the attorney-general since 2018. Additionally, Ms Archer had ministerial responsibility for workplace safety.

Swan Hill Rural City Council Found to Have a Culture of Bullying and Harassment

The Australian Services Union (ASU) has stated this week that a culture of bullying and harassment at Swan Hill Rural Council has caused staff to resign “in droves.” The ASU said that the leadership at the council was “horribly low” and that there was a toxic workplace in the organisation. Billy King, ASU organiser, stated this week that “this toxicity includes allegations of workplace bullying, harassment and age discrimination against long-term staff members by [some] senior council managers.” Further, Mr King stated that “it is having a real and detrimental impact on the mental health of employees.” The council underwent a workplace restructure, which has created tension within the organisation according to Mr King. Mr King claimed that “while crumbling district roads remain in the worst condition on record, staff employed to repair those same roads are leaving Swan Hill in droves under council’s mismanagement.” The chief executive of Swan Hill Rural Council, Scott Barber, stated that “workplace bullying is a matter that goes against our core values and principles.” He said that “we are committed to maintaining a safe, respectful and inclusive work environment for all our employees.” Mr King stated that a recent ASU project, in collaboration with WorkSafe Victoria, “aims to develop an alternative to the top-down approach to psychosocial hazards, because we believe workers know what is best when it comes to workplace safety.” He said that “despite numerous attempts by the ASU to engage council, the offer to present the WorkSafe program to staff and improve morale at Swan Hill remains unanswered.”

WorkSafe Construction Team Has ‘Toxic’ Workplace

A leaked internal review has revealed that the WorkSafe team assigned with monitoring construction has a “toxic” workplace, where staff face “bullying and intimidation” from managers. The confidential review has recommended the replacement of the “career progression policy” with a “full merit-based selection process.” The review stated that “it seems apparent that some of the longer serving inspectors and a few others negatively influenced, have resisted any change, failed to fulfil their responsibilities to the best of the abilities and tried to bully, intimidate and influence others within the team.” It said that “a them-and-us attitude towards senior management is widely across the team, which is very counterproductive for all concerned.” Further, the review said that “without significant changes to the way the team approaches the key performance issues, including resistance to change, some toxic behavioural issues and poor performance, little is likely to be accomplished.” It said that “change will need to be comprehensive and will not be achieved unless a full restructure is undertaken and changes are introduced to support the cultural change.” WorkSafe Commissioner Sally North stated that “the construction team is staffed with inspectors with extensive industry knowledge and a commitment to workplace health and safety; it continues to deliver high quality inspection services to WA workplaces.”