The Commission has welcomed the introduction into Federal Parliament today of the Anti-Discrimination and Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Respect at Work) Bill 2022 (Cth) (Bill).
The Government has committed to implementing all 55 recommendations of our Respect@Work: National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in the Workplace (2020) Report (Respect@Work Report) as a matter of priority.
The Bill represents implementation of seven of the remaining legislative recommendations of the Respect@Work Report, including a positive duty on employers to prevent workplace sexual harassment, sex discrimination and victimisation, with accompanying regulatory powers conferred on the Commission.
The Respect@Work Report’s recommendations proposed a new approach spanning government, employers and the community, to better prevent and respond to sexual harassment in the workplace and provide leadership and innovation in addressing this complex and difficult issue.
Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins – who led the development of the Respect@Work inquiry and report – said, “The right of workers to be free from sexual harassment is a human right, a workplace right and a safety right. This legislative reform will create a regulatory environment in Australia that is key to the realisation of that right for all Australian workers.”
The centrepiece of the Bill is the introduction of a positive duty to prevent sex discrimination and sexual harassment.
“We concluded in Respect@Work that a positive duty shifts the burden from individuals making complaints to employers taking proactive and preventative action. As the positive duty is an ongoing duty, it shifts the emphasis from a complaints-based model to one where employers must continuously assess and evaluate whether they are meeting the requirements of the duty.
“These important reforms are timely and should be considered by state and territory governments to achieve greater harmonisation of sexual harassment legislation as part of any upcoming legislative reviews, consistent with our recommendation in our Respect@Work report.
“In addition to the critical focus on prevention and cultural change that will be brought about by a positive duty, increased clarity and consistency in the operation of sexual harassment laws —including across federal, state and territory anti-discrimination legislation — will help make the complaints process more accessible for individuals.”
The Australian Human Rights Commission has also proposed a positive duty and other reforms across all four federal discrimination laws, in its position paper released in December 2021, Free and Equal: A reform agenda for federal discrimination law.
“The introduction of these reforms in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 specifically focused on sex discrimination and sexual harassment provides an invaluable pilot for broader reforms that are needed across all areas of federal discrimination law.
“We look forward to working with the government, business sector, unions, the Respect@Work Council and others to implement these important reforms to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984.”
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