‘Sexual Harassment In The Workplace Should Not Be Politicised’: WWC Directors Respond To Labor’s $24M Election Promise
Two in five women in Australia have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Let that sink in for a moment. With #FiredUp, Refinery29 Australia makes an ongoing commitment to spotlighting this serious and pervasive issue through survivor interviews, informative features and ongoing news coverage. The ultimate goal? To help dismantle workplace sexual harassment and assault in Australia.
Days ahead of the federal government's National Women's Safety Summit next week, federal Labor has pledged $24 million towards funding existing Working Women's Centres (WWC) and ensuring there is one in every Australian state and territory if it wins the next election. Along with this promise, it's pledged $1.27 million will be invested into a "one-stop-shop" to "assist victims of workplace sexual harassment."
The working women's centres provide free advice to women on work-related matters including underpayment, wage theft, parental leave, bullying and workplace sexual harassment and assault. They currently only exist in the Northern Territory, South Australia and Queensland, and the NT branch requires urgent funding to avoid closing its doors at the end of the year.
South Australia WWC Director Abbey Kendall said she "welcomed" Labor's announcement on Tuesday, but with a stern reminder that "sexual harassment in the workplace should not be politicised."
"We have been fighting for funding recognition for the last 8 months and we welcome Labor's pledge to sustainably fund Working Women's Centres and ensure that all Australian women can have access to our world-leading model of service, no matter where they work and live," Kendall said in an official statement provided to Refinery29 Australia. "Sexual harassment in the workplace should not be politicised."
Kendall said it's up to both governments to work together to provide support to this frontline women's service.
"We need funding action from the federal government and bi-partisan support for our services," she said.
"This is a no-brainer, the federal government have an opportunity to make their mark in the prevention of sexual harassment, and they can do it by funding a holistic, professional and trauma-informed service that has a proven track record of improving the lives of Australian working women."
On Tuesday Labor announced the potential funding and plans to expand the working women's centre networks nationally, saying these measures were part of the party's "commitment to fully implement all 55 recommendations of the Sex Discrimination Commissioner's Respect@Work Report".
In the report (based on a national inquiry into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces), Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins recommended that the government consider establishing or re-establishing working women’s centres in jurisdictions where they do not currently exist. Recommendation 49 suggested that governments should provide “increased and recurrent funding to working women’s centres.”
However, so far the federal government has only provided $200,000 in the 2021-22 Budget to working women's centres — half went to NT and the other half to QLD. A spokesperson from the Attorney-General's Department told Refinery29 Australia that "consultations remain ongoing", but some WWCs need immediate and permanent funding to survive.
Nicki Petrou, the director of the NTWWC, says the NT government gives the centre $200,000 a year, but another $700,000 annually is needed to keep it open.
If the federal government doesn't commit to this funding soon, she fears being forced to make staff cuts, reduce operating hours from five to three or two days a week in September if that is even viable, and potentially closing doors in November.
“[The funding] will be able to at least fund us properly, and to be able to respond appropriately to the demand,” Petrou told Refinery29 Australia.
In the 12 months to 30 June 2021, the NTWWC saw a 29% increase in the number of clients serviced, and recorded seven times the number of sexual harassment matters. The centre has serviced many women who are potentially at a higher risk of sexual harassment due to geographical isolation or social and cultural factors.
"We do not want to see Territory women the casualties of a political funding battle especially when every minute counts for us right now," Petrou said following Labor's announcement.
“The need for this funding is urgent: there has been a national outcry against workplace sexual harassment and assault that we know occurs in every industry. We cannot delay this."
On September 6 and 7, family safety advocates and service providers as well as women who have experienced violence will meet with politicians at the National Women’s Safety Summit in Canberra. The WWC directors will also be attending.
Held over two days, the summit will include panel discussions, roundtables and keynote addresses, giving attendees the opportunity to share feedback on the government’s approach to these issues, and propose more funding to support community services.