Political staffers don’t trust their bosses to investigate sexual harassment reports impartially, CPSU survey finds

By Shannon Jenkins

Friday February 26, 2021

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New survey results released by the Community and Public Sector Union have shown that most political staffers who have experienced or witnessed sexual harassment or assault in the workplace have chosen not to report the incident out of fear for their job or a belief that reporting wouldn’t make a difference.

The safety at work survey of 98 members of parliament employees was released on Friday, less than two weeks after former ministerial staffer Brittany Higgins alleged that she had been sexually assaulted at Parliament House in 2019.

Around 14% of respondents have experienced sexual harassment or gendered violence at the workplace in the past year, while the same number said they had witnessed it, the survey found.

Only 8% of those who experienced or witnessed sexual harassment or assault reported it. The majority of those who didn’t report said they didn’t think reporting would change the situation. Other reasons for choosing not to report included concerns that it may affect their career development and opportunities, and a lack of trust in their manager or organisation’s ability to investigate the matter impartially.

CPSU national secretary Melissa Donnelly said that staff have often felt that reporting incidents would “go nowhere” and would have adverse impacts on their careers.

“The clunky and opaque reporting structures provide little support or confidence to staff that complaints will be followed up appropriately,” she said in a statement.

Higgins has said that she did not go to the police at the time of her alleged rape because she feared it would affect her job.

Read more: Brittany Higgins: so many nagging questions left unanswered — and likely to remain so

While 40% of staff said they have experienced bullying or harassment in the past 12 months (and more than half have witnessed it) most staff would hesitate to report bullying and harassment in case the issue was exacerbated, or their career was jeopardised.

Around 70% of respondents said the Department of Finance hasn’t made staff aware of what behaviours constitute bullying and harassment, and a whopping 82% said they didn’t know if the department would support them if they reported bullying and harassment in the workplace.

Donnelly said the government and Finance must take the workplace health and safety of all staff seriously.

“The CPSU has raised the issues of sexual harassment and bullying in every WHS meeting with the department over the last two years with almost no action taken by the Department of Finance,” she said.

“All workers deserve and should expect safe workplaces. Political staffers should be no different. That’s why the CPSU has been pushing for an independent review of work practices and culture and mandatory sexual harassment and bullying training for parliamentarians and senior staff.”

The survey also highlighted a lack of training on sexual harassment and gendered violence, and bullying and harassment.

Read more: Fourth woman speaks up about Brittany Higgins’ alleged perpetrator


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