What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 8 January 2024 – 14 January 2024

Gender Pay Data on Private Sector Employers Soon to Be Made Public

On 27 February this year, the Workforce Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) will release the first set of private sector employer gender pay gap data. The collected data will cover reporting from 1 April 2022 to 31 March 2023. The information will include median gender pay gaps, gender composition and the average remuneration per pay quartile. The publication of this data is now legally mandated as part of the Closing the Gender Pay Gap legislation passed in 2023. The data will “reflect the difference in average earnings between an employer’s female and male employees, not the differences in pay at the same level, for the same work.” John Myers, the founding director at Perple, said that “with so many directors about to see their gender pay metrics for the first time, there is likely potential for some surprising divergent, urgent, and personal risks for the organisations and their leaders.” The divergent risks include the differences between diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) value commitments, as well as the actual gender equality performance of relevant businesses. The Minister for Women, Katy Gallagher, said that “publishing gender pay gaps is an important step in raising awareness, and holding organisations to account where there is a gender pay gap across their organisation – and that’s a big change.” Further, Ms Gallagher said that “I think for those that have a significant gender pay gap, they’re going to have to change the way they do things.”

Alleged Bullying, Harassment and Sexism in Queensland Rural Fires Brigades Association

Whistle-blowers have claimed that the presence of systemic bullying, harassment and sexism at the Queensland Fire and Emergency Service (QFES) has become “supercharged” in recent months. Justin Choveaux, the general manager of QFES, said that he believed he had an obligation to raise allegations from employees, which included claims of discrimination and bias against women and others. He said that he had been inundated with complaints about “the ongoing toxic culture” of the fire service. Mr Choveaux said that “the people who are coming to me are very, very senior. This is not the noisy outliers.” In an open letter to the premier (Steven Miles), Mr Choveaux stated that “individuals report being collectively targeted and being exposed to prolonged behaviours that lead to impacts on personal and professional reputations on executives, staff and volunteers across services and that this has instilled fear, anxiety, defeatism and poor morale and psychological health.” The letter stated that “these ongoing toxic behaviours are also in the form of deliberate failure to abide by government policies and community standards.” QFES said in a statement that “QFES management wants to work with anyone with a complaint and the staff and volunteer representative bodies to address any concerns.”

Prospective Employee Allegedly Discriminated Due to Her Age

A 37-year-old woman who was attempting to re-enter the workforce was “shocked and offended” that a potential employer declined to hire her due to her age. Maria Nielson applied for a position at a barbershop via text message. The employer replied with “I’m sorry but honestly, I don’t want to be rude but, with all my respect, as I have a lot of young clients I’m looking for someone a bit younger to work with me, hope you don’t get offended. Thanks again.” Ms Nielson said that she “never imagined” she would receive a message in this manner and was “shocked”. John-Anthony Hodgens, the principal lawyer for employment, safety and migration at Macpherson Kelley, said that “there’s a prohibition, both in the federal age discrimination legislation and it’s reflected in each of the relevant state jurisdictions, that you can’t discriminate against people as a general on the basis of age.” He said that “you have rights to pursue remedies in the form of compensation through either the Australian Human Rights Commission process or through the various state bodies”. His final warning for employers was to “be conscious of recruiting practices and procedures.”

ABC Journalist Antoinette Lattouf Fired for ‘Expressing Political Opinion’

Antoinette Lattouf, who was an experienced radio host on the ABC, was fired only hours after she shared a social media post about the war in Gaza last month. Ms Lattouf has claimed that she was discriminated against due to her Arab background. Ms Lattouf, who is of Lebanese descent, has alleged in a complaint to the Fair Work Commission that she was “humiliatingly” fired for “expressing a political opinion and because of her race”. Ms Lattouf said in a statement that “I’m a big supporter of public broadcasting. I will always advocate for a well-funded, fair, independent and representative ABC. Our democracy is more enriched for it”. She said that “this is why it is disheartening to not only witness the horrendous treatment of people of colour by the ABC over the years, but now to personally – and so publicly – feel its wrath.” Ms Lattouf disputed the ABC’s rhetoric about “diversity and inclusion” and said that the broadcaster was “currently an unsafe workplace for journalists who are people of colour”. Ms Lattouf is seeking a “detailed, public apology and compensation for harm to reputation and for distress and humiliation… and the imposition of penalties on the ABC to deter it from repeating this conduct.”

New Course at Edith Cowan University Aims to Address Toxic Fly-In Fly-Out Work Culture

A new course will be introduced at Edith Cowan University (ECU) in March with the aim of addressing the toxic workplace culture in mining. The course aims to educate industry leaders on how to prevent and deal with sexual harassment and bullying. The new graduate certificate is targeted at management more broadly but will include three units aimed at fly-in, fly-out work. The course was created through the Mental Awareness, Respect and Safety (MARS) program, which is a government and industry-funded initiative that was introduced in response to a Western Australian parliamentary inquiry into sexual misconduct within the sector. ECU “won the bid” of becoming the home of the MARS centre, which allows for “industry, academic and government research” into how to address the issues highlighted in the 2022 Enough is Enough report. Dr Esme Franken, the MARS course coordinator, said that “we look at different responses to intervention. We will be discussing potential responses to incidents, and they won’t be band aid responses in class”. She said that “we’re going with a hybrid format, which we think is going to be more appealing and more manageable for students who are perhaps in FIFO work or just generally working full time”.

New Court Documents Reveal David Sharaz’s First Contact with Linda Reynolds

New documents disclosed by the Federal Court have revealed the first contact David Sharaz (the fiancée of Brittany Higgins) had with Lisa Wilkinson in arranging the Network Ten interview. The documents have revealed that Mr Sharaz was “in almost constant contact” with Project producer Angus Llewellyn for weeks prior to the interview. Additionally, he offered the option of “secretly” recording footage in the office of Labor MPs “who owe me”. He said that “you’ve probably got your own avenues but I wanted to just offer that to you.” Mr Sharaz teased the story in January 2019 as a “sexual assault at Parliament House.” He said that “the girl has been through a lot, and I’m deeply protective of making sure this is done right, given going after the Liberal Party machine is no easy feat.” He further stated that “I can say this, it’s the first time something like that has happened under Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s watch. He can no longer use the excuse: ‘This is a bubble’ issue, or ‘this was before my time’.” Mr Sharaz said that “to be honest, Britt [Higgins] is freaked out. She’s worried that without the police etc you’re not going to run this. She’s in a bad place so I can’t really ask her anything at the moment”. He stated that “Britt is starting to feel a little like a commodity, when really… her life is about to implode. She’s getting nothing out of this”.