On 11 November 2021, changes to the Fair Work Act 2009 came into effect. The changes allow for employees to apply to the Fair Work Commission for an order to stop sexual harassment occurring in the workplace. The idea of a ‘stop order’ was suggested by Respect@Work to the federal government to address bullying in the form of sexual harassment. The legislation was passed in September, allowing the recommendation to commence after two months. The new law allows for the Fair Work Commission to intervene if an employee is at risk of experiencing ongoing sexual harassment.
Respect@Work sex discrimination commissioner, Kate Jenkins, advocates for greater prevention strategies for sexual harassment in workplaces. Ms Jenkins spoke at a national workplace sexual harassment forum this week. She voices opinions that anonymous surveys should be implemented to better address the issue. In 2020, one in three people had experienced sexual harassment within a five-year period.. Ms Jenkins said that sharing training resources between industries and implementing anonymous feedback surveys are effective tools to prevent sexual harassment. The opinions she shared at the forum are due to be formalised into recommendations for the Federal government.
In Australia, state and federal governments are implementing laws to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations. A notable law is that employees in certain industries are required to be fully vaccinated by the new year. This week, Liberal senator Alex Antic announced he would not be supporting government legislation on mandatory vaccinations. The Senator claims that the legislation is discriminatory.
This week, the Champions of Change Coalition published a report that estimated that family and domestic violence (FDV) costs employees $2 billion on an annual basis. The costs comes from employees being absent and less productive as a result of experiencing FDV. In Australia, 62% of women who experience FDV are working. The chief executive of Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia, Hayley Foster, recommends ways for victims to raise the issue of FDV with their employers. Ms Foster emphasises that it is up to the worker if they wish to disclose the issue. There are pre-existing entitlements for workers who are experiencing FDV, including carers leave and counselling sessions.
In New South Wales (NSW), older workers are being denied workers compensation. This has raised concerns of age discrimination. NSW laws lag behind changes in the workforce that show Australians are working for longer. State legislation reduces the level of assistance that workers receive once they pass the statutory retirement age – 65 to 67. Sarah Hunt, a lawyer at Shine Lawyers, represents clients who have been shocked to learn of their limited support as older workers. She believes these statutory limits deprive people of necessary support and the choice to work longer.
The Australian mining industry is being heavily reviewed for its culture around sexual misconduct. This week, Western Australia contractor, MacMahon Holdings, was questioned over its protocols for sexual harassment. The company failed to address the extent to which sexual harassment pervades its workforce. A parliamentary inquiry was conducted following a public submission from a former MacMahon employee.
Canberra Health Services has hired a new chief executive, Dave Peffer, who plans to crack down on bullying within the organisation. Canberra Health Services will be implementing recommendations made in a review into the organisation’s culture in 2019. These recommendations were presented to the ACT Legislative Assembly on 11 November 2021. The ACT’s public health system has been criticised by employees for bullying, despite the issue being highlighted in a report two years prior. Dave Peffer has publicly said that staff who continually display bad behaviour will be “exiting the organisation” within the next year. The aim is to change the culture of the public health system through improved hiring choices and promotion of common values. Over the past year, complaints of bullying have increased at Canberra Health Services while complaints decreased in the ACT Health and Calvary Public Hospital.
The NSW Police has lost an appeal against an employee in a sexual assault case. Lina Nguyen is a principal executive officer in the NSW police force. She alleges that a detective – her colleague – sexually assaulted her in 2019. She made a report the following day. The NSW Police were found to have discriminated against Ms Nguyen after the incident through exclusion. Following the incident, she was transferred to a role that did not meet her qualifications and skill set. She believed she was moved in order to accommodate the needs of her alleged attacker rather than supporting her needs as the victim. Her worker’s compensation claim was filed in 2020, arguing that she was “essentially demoted after reporting the assault”. She received a Workers Compensation award in 2020. The NSW Police appealed the decision and subsequently lost.
An investigation into the extramarital affair and treatment of staff by Education Minister Alan Trudge has decided that there is insufficient evidence to prove inappropriate behaviours. This has been announced despite the Minister admitting to the extramarital affair with former press secretary Rachelle Miller. The incident gained public attention after a Four Corners episode covered the scandal in late 2020. The subsequent investigation cost $39,998 of taxpayer money, yet, the findings will not be released to the public. Mr Tudge denies allegations of bullying but admitted to being involved in the extramarital affair. Ms Miller’s workers compensation claim will remain on foot with the Department of Finance and is completely separate to the findings of the recent investigation.
A former partner at KPMG, Brendan Lyon, gave evidence at a parliamentary hearing after altering reports for the NSW Department of Treasury. On 8 November 2021, Mr Lyon claimed that a NSW public servant pressured him to change the report details. These changes gave the false impression that the NSW Treasury’s budget was $10 billion better off. Mr Lyon described the dealings with public servants from the Treasury as “unprofessional” and “ongoing” attacks. At KPMG, Mr Lyon’s team was engaged in the transport sector to establish a new state-owned corporation. The corporation, TAHE, would manage NSW rail infrastructure. During the course of this project, Mr Lyon realised that the NSW budget was $10 billion or more worse off than the Department of Treasury had claimed. Mr Lyon felt that he was torn between his duties to KPMG and his personal ethics. He felt KPMG was invested in continuing the TAHE project as previously planned, due to promising the Treasury a success story. As a result of the conflict, Mr Lyon lost his position at the firm.