Independent inquiry into sexual harassment in the workplace to be launched

Jun 20th, 2018

In a world first, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) will launch an independent national inquiry into sexual harassment in the workplace.

To be carried out by the sex discrimination commissioner, Kate Jenkins, the 12-month investigation will look at the effectiveness of the current laws and more importantly at what is going on in the workplace. This inquiry follows the #MeToo movement which has highlighted the prevalence of women being sexually harassed and assaulted.

Ms Jenkins says ‘the ultimate aim is we will have much better guidance on how to prevent and respond to sexual harassment in the current climate. Many workplaces are in fact committed to eliminating sexual harassment and they have been taking steps like policies and procedures, but there is clearly more that needs to be done’.

Less than a third of Australian working women feel that they are treated equally and 1 in 10 believe that they have experienced sexual harassment according to the landmark national survey conducted by researchers at the University of Sydney. 2000 women and 500 men aged 16-40 across Australia were surveyed. Just 31% of women believed that men and women were treated equally at work, while 50% of men believed there was equality in the workplace.

Sexual harassment at work is increasing. There have been three national surveys and early indications are that this 4th survey reports higher percentages of inequality and harassment than the last one. In 2012 one in four women and one in six men had been sexually harassed in the previous five years. Of these people, only one in five would make a complaint.

The independent inquiry will hold public consultations in major cities and regional centres and all Australians will be able to lodge submissions. The drivers of sexual harassment, the current use of technology as well as the prevailing laws and policies will be examined. There will also be a focus on the financial consequences for women who are targeted in the workplace. From losing her job, to resigning and being unable to get a reference, the consequences could be disastrous.

Recommendations will be handed down in 12 months’ time and changes will be reviewed after three years.

Kate Jenkins says, ‘Success for me will be at the end, that we come up with a new blueprint that will most certainly include many of the initiatives that are already in place, but better guidance for employers on how they can help improve the workplace’.

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