"Ai Group was a strong supporter of the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces that led to the Respect@Work Report. I was a member of the National Inquiry's Member Reference Group and Ai Group facilitated several consultations between our employer members and the Commissioner to share the employers' perspective in preventing sexual harassment and addressing complaints," Innes Willox Chief Executive of the national employer association Ai Group said today.
"As the Prime Minister made very clear today, sexual harassment has no place in Australian workplaces.
"Ai Group made a detailed submission to the National Inquiry calling for a range of reforms to eliminate sexual harassment from our community and to better support employers who are currently constrained by a complex legal framework in preventing and addressing complaints. Key reforms should include:
- The Fair Work Regulations 2009 should be amended to expressly include sexual harassment and associated unacceptable behaviour in the definition of 'serious misconduct'. The current definition is outdated, and appropriate updating is long overdue. (See Respect@Work Report recommendation 31).
- The unfair dismissal provisions in the Fair Work Act 2009 should be amended to ensure that workplaces and victims of sexual harassment are better protected. Current unfair dismissal provisions unduly favour procedural technicalities over the welfare of victims and safe workplaces. (See Respect@Work Report recommendation 30).
- The definitions of sexual harassment in State anti-discrimination laws should be harmonised with the definitions in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) (SDA) to reduce complexity and increase understanding. (See Respect@Work Report recommendation 26).
- The Australian Government should allocate funding for targeted community campaigns aimed at preventing sexual harassment, with a focus on the role of digital technology in communicating and interacting. (See Respect@Work Report recommendations 8, 9, 10 and 13).
- The Australian Government should allocate funding to educate employers, including Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), in effective ways to identify and address sexual harassment in the workplace. (See Respect@Work Report recommendations 45 and 47).
- Innovative enterprise initiatives to reduce sexual harassment should be showcased and shared by engaging with industry groups and the leaders of relevant businesses. (See Respect@Work Report recommendations 45 and 47).
"Some of the recommendations need careful consideration to avoid any unintended or unfair consequences. For example:
- The report recommends that sexual harassment be expressly outlawed under the Fair Work Act. However, sexual harassment is already outlawed under the Federal Sex Discrimination Act and under State and Territory laws. The proposal could result in employers being exposed to multiple penalty and compensatory regimes for the same instances of harassment.
- The report recommends the introduction of a 'stop sexual harassment order' equivalent to the current 'stop workplace bullying orders' into the Fair Work Act. If this is implemented, the proposed orders should operate in the same way as the Fair Work Act's anti-bullying orders. The focus should be on practical measures to prevent sexual harassment, rather than on compensation.
"Ai Group looks forward to continuing to consult with the Government as it develops and implements its response to the Respect@Work Report and Recommendations," said Mr Willox.
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