Urgent law reform needed to prevent sexual harassment at work

Joint statement

Everyone deserves to be safe at work and free from sexual harassment, but our current system is failing us. While sexual harassment is pervasive across all industries and all employment levels in Australia, it is not inevitable. We have the power to prevent it.

We call on the Australian Government to implement all remaining recommendations of the Respect@Work report in full and without further delay. This includes urgently amending our laws to create the following eight changes:

  1. Confirmation that one of the objects of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) is substantive equality – Recommendation 16(a)
  2. Amending the Sex Discrimination Act to prohibit the creation of a hostile, sexist working environment – Recommendation 16(c)
  3. A positive duty on all employers to take reasonable and proportionate steps to stop sex discrimination and sexual harassment – Recommendation 17
  4. New compliance and investigation powers for the Australian Human Rights Commission to enforce the positive duty – Recommendation 18
  5. A new inquiry power for the Sex Discrimination Commissioner to investigate systemic sexual harassment – Recommendation 19
  6. A new process to allow representative bodies to bring actions to court on behalf of people who have been sexually harassed – Recommendation 23
  7. Creating an express prohibition on sexual harassment and an accessible new complaints process in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) – Recommendation 28
  8. A new Work Health and Safety Code of Practice on Sexual Harassment at Work – Recommendation 35

One of the core findings of Respect@Work was that our current laws are ‘simply no longer fit for purpose’ and should require employers to take proactive measures to prevent sexual harassment.

Respect@Work highlighted the disproportionate impacts of sexual harassment on women, in particular on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, women of colour, women with disability, younger women, older women, low paid and insecurely employed women, and on LGBTIQ+ communities. It found that we must address gender inequity as the main driver of sexual harassment.

Two years on, we are deeply concerned that key recommendations from Respect@Work have still not been implemented. These sensible and practical changes to our laws must be made urgently to help create gender-equal and inclusive workplaces that are safe, respectful and equitable for everyone.

The Power2Prevent Coalition is a group of more than 60 diverse community organisations, unions, academics, peak bodies, health professionals, lawyers and victim-survivors. We see the effects of sexual harassment on people around Australia every day and how our systems are not responding to the issues.

We stand together to call for this urgent reform to prevent sexual harassment at work.

List of Signatories (as at March 2022)

  1. Australian Council of Trade Unions
  2. Basic Rights Queensland
  3. Carol Andrades, Senior Fellow, University of Melbourne
  4. Construction Forestry Maritime Mining Energy Union
  5. Community and Public Sector Union
  6. Domestic Violence NSW
  7. Dr Alysia Blackham, Associate Professor, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne
  8. Dr Belinda Smith, Associate Professor, Sydney Law School, University of Sydney
  9. Dr Dominique Allen, Associate Professor, Monash University
  10. Drummond Street Services
  11. Australian Education Union
  12. Emerita Professor, Margaret Thornton, Australian National University
  13. Employment Rights Legal Service
  14. Equality Rights Alliance
  15. Fair Agenda
  16. Finance Sector Union
  17. Full Stop Australia
  18. GenWest
  19. Grata Fund
  20. Health Services Union
  21. Independent Education Union of Australia
  22. Job Watch
  23. Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research
  24. Justice Connect
  25. Kingsford Legal Centre
  26. Australian Lawyers Alliance
  27. Legal Aid Queensland
  28. Maritime Union of Australia
  29. Maurice Blackburn
  30. National Tertiary Education Union
  31. North Queensland Women’s Legal Service
  32. Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission
  33. Not in My Workplace
  34. Australian Nursing & Midwifery Federation
  35. Professor Beth Gaze, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne
  36. Professor Nareen Young, Jumbunna Institute, UTS
  37. Professor Sara Charlesworth, Director of the Centre for People, Organisation & Work, RMIT
  38. Public Interest Advocacy Centre
  39. Queensland Council of Unions
  40. Redfern Legal Centre
  41. Safe Steps
  42. Australian Services Union
  43. Sexual Assault Services Victoria
  44. Shop Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association
  45. South-East Monash Legal Service Inc.
  46. United Workers Union
  47. Victoria Legal Aid
  48. Victorian Trades Hall Council
  49. WestJustice
  50. Wirringa Baiya Aboriginal Women’s Legal Centre
  51. Women with Disabilities Victoria
  52. Women’s Health and Wellbeing Barwon South West
  53. Women’s Health in the South East
  54. Women’s Health NSW
  55. Women’s Health Victoria
  56. Women’s Information and Referral Exchange Inc
  57. Women’s Legal Centre ACT
  58. Women’s Legal Service Australia
  59. Women’s Legal Service NSW
  60. Women’s Legal Service Victoria
  61. Working Women’s Centre South Australia Inc
  62. Young Workers Centre

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