Sexual Harassment More Than “A Few Bad Guys” And Necessary Preventive Measures, Says Kate Jenkins | australian politics


Australian Gender Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins urged the Morrison government to impose a positive duty on employers to eliminate sexual harassment, insisting that the workplace issue is much bigger than “a few bad ones. types ”.

Jenkins’ appearance before a Senate inquiry on Monday coincided with the release of an update on the status of an inquiry, led by the commissioner, into the culture of work in Parliament. The investigation was sparked by an allegation of rape brought by former liberal employee Brittany Higgins against a higher-ranking colleague.

The Australian Human Rights Commission confirmed that 345 people made submissions or were interviewed, with 72% of respondents identifying as female and 28% identifying as male. Those making submissions include current and former parliamentarians, current and former staff, volunteers and interns.

Jenkins appeared on Monday before a Senate inquiry examining the Morrison government’s response to the landmark Respect @ Work inquiry the commissioner led prior to the Covid 19 pandemic – a process examining the adequacy of sex discrimination law.

The Respect @ Work report contained 55 recommendations – the main one being that employers be required to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate gender discrimination, sexual harassment and victimization “to the extent possible”.

Despite the #MeToo societal calculation that erupted in Australia following the publication of its story by Higgins, the Morrison government has not made a commitment to embrace this fundamental change. The government said it would assess whether the proposed positive obligation could “create more complexity, uncertainty or duplication in the overall legal framework.”

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Jenkins insists there is a need to impose a duty on employers. She told the Senate Committee that research undertaken by the Australian Human Rights Commission has shown that sexual harassment doesn’t just happen – it “almost thrives in some of our workplaces.” Some industries, she said, were at particularly high risk.

The Gender Discrimination Commissioner said the current gender discrimination law only calls on employers to report on their workplace culture “when someone makes a complaint.”

She said the legal regime as it currently exists encourages employers to dissuade their employees from filing a complaint, and if a complaint is lodged, the legislation “encourages [employers] side with the respondent to defend the complaint… and to argue that he is not responsible ”.

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National Senator Perin Davey asked Jenkins on Monday whether the positive duty to prevent harassment is necessary, given the protections of Australia’s occupational health and safety regime.

The Gender Discrimination Commissioner said current health and safety requirements exist, but they have not resulted in preventive measures taken by employers to ensure their work culture is inherently hostile to it. bullying.

Jenkins said the sex discrimination law was aimed at preventing instances of harassment, but the weakness of the system was that the law currently did not require employers to take preventative measures.

The government backed down from its recommendation to impose a positive obligation and accompany it with compliance measures, in part because some employer groups have expressed caution about the overhaul. In a submission to the same survey, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the government’s response to Jenkins’ recommendations “must be practical and capable of being implemented in a wide range of business environments, including small enterprises “.

“The right balance must also be struck so that any new law is likely to be genuinely effective in combating sexual harassment and not unnecessarily complicate the system,” ACCI said. “Indeed, there are additional, overlapping and complex legal causes of action that may undermine sexual harassment prevention rather than advance it. “

But Jenkins told the committee the change would actually reduce complexity by aligning discrimination provisions with workplace safety requirements.

Regarding her review of parliamentary culture, which will report back by the end of 2021, Jenkins said she was confident the process now attracts a high level of engagement that would allow the Human Rights Committee to l man to present a full report.

Jenkins told the Senate committee that she believes the country has turned a corner and that she strongly hopes that 2021 will be seen in the future as a “turning point” in the eradication of sexual harassment in Australia.

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