Fired Up

The Government Just Voted Against Bill Amendments To Protect Workplace Sexual Harassment Victims

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. 
From Brittany Higgins speaking out earlier this year to the #March4Justice rallies, the federal government has faced increased pressure in 2021 to take the issue of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace more seriously.
On Wednesday #wewontwait was trending on Twitter, as many Australian women's safety advocates said the time is now for the Morrison government to implement all 55 recommendations made by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins in the Respect@Work report – based on an inquiry into sexual harassment in the workplace. 
Advertisement
It comes after the Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021 (the Respect at Work Bill) – where the federal government proposed to implement six of the 55 recommendations – was debated in parliament on Tuesday.
Female politicians took to the social media platform to inform Aussies of particular recommendations that the government voted against, including Recommendation 17, whereby the Sex Discrimination Act would be amended to introduce a positive duty on all employers to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate sex discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation.
"The Morrison Government has just voted AGAINST ensuring employers must take action to prevent sexual harassment," Victoria Labor senator Jess Walsh tweeted. "This Government’s women problem runs deep," she added, along with the hashtags #auspol and #wedontwait.
Senator Jenny McAllister tweeted that recommendations 16, 25 and 28 were all voted against.
Michele O'Neil, who is the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) explained the internet's revolt quite simply.
"Does the Morrison govt not understand why #wewontwait is trending. Let me explain it’s because women are watching them refuse to amend the law to implement all the Respect@Work recommendations," she tweeted.
In March 2020, the Australian Human Rights Commission released its Respect@Work report. The report outlined 55 recommendations for government, business and community sectors to consider, indicating how Australia can better prevent and respond to sexual harassment.
A year later, women across Australia gathered at #March4Justice rallies in March 2021, calling on the government to implement all 55 recommendations. The federal government responded in April with its ‘Roadmap for Respect’ report, though the plan didn't necessarily commit to implementing all 55 recommendations. 
Advertisement
Last month Jenkins urged the federal government to impose an onus on employers to prevent sexual harassment, as the current Sex Discrimination Act only asks employers to account for their workplace's culture "when someone makes a complaint."
Speaking at a Senate inquiry at the time, she said Recommendation 17 needed to be implemented.
She said the current legal framework encouraged employers to deter employees from complaining and was also very confusing state to state.
"Throughout our National Inquiry into workplace sexual harassment, which resulted in the Respect@Work report, we found that our laws must move from a reactive approach that relies on individual complaints by victims to one that requires preventative action to stop sexual harassment occurring in the first place," she told Refinery29 Australia.
"Respect@Work’s recommendation of introducing a positive duty in the Sex Discrimination Act is central to achieving this shift. A positive duty will align the Sex Discrimination Act with safety laws, and require employers to take proactive steps to eliminating sexual harassment in their workplace."
On Tuesday federal Labor said it would commit to Recommendation 49 of the Respect@Work report if it won the next election. Days ahead of the federal government's National Women's Safety Summit next week, the party 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 pledged $1.27 million will be invested into a "one-stop-shop" to "assist victims of workplace sexual harassment."

More from Culture