26 September 2023

Human Rights extend into workplace

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The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has announced that seven of the final recommendations made in the review into sexual activity in working places have been introduced into the Federal Parliament.

Entitled Respect@Work: National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in the Workplace (2020) the review has produced Parliament’s Anti-Discrimination and Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Respect at Work) Bill 2022 (Cth), the Bill.

It was welcomed by the leader of the Respect@Work inquiry and report, Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, who said the work’s recommendations proposed a new approach for spanning Government, employers and the community.

“The right of workers to be free from sexual harassment is a human right, a workplace right and a safety right,” Ms Jenkins said.

“This legislative reform will create a regulatory environment in Australia that is key to the realisation of that right for all Australian workers.”

She said 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,” Ms Jenkins said.

“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,” she said.

“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.”

She said that 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 federal discrimination laws.

“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,” the AHRC said.

“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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