Vic government taskforce to tackle workplace sexual harassment

By Shannon Jenkins

Monday March 8, 2021

Michael McNamara will lead Victoria’s new digital transformation agency.
Michael McNamara will lead Victoria’s new digital transformation agency. (Image: Treasury Gardens, Melbourne. Adobe/Greg Brave)

The Victorian government has launched a taskforce to address sexual harassment in workplaces across the state through the development of a range of new reforms, including a mandatory incident-notification scheme.

The taskforce, announced by workplace safety minister Ingrid Stitt, minister for women Gabrielle Williams, and acting premier James Merlino on Monday, will look at ways to bolster the occupational health and safety framework to address sexual harassment.

The group will also clarify employer obligations to improve accountability, consider ways to prevent the misuse of non-disclosure agreements in sexual harassment matters, and support workers to speak up against sexual harassment.

“Too many women have had to deal with the disrespect, humiliation and intimidation of sexual harassment when we are simply trying to do our jobs — these reforms will go a long way to improving workplace culture for everyone,” Williams said in a statement.

Parliamentary secretary for workplace safety Bronwyn Halfpenny and Equal Workplaces Advisory Council chair Liberty Sanger will co-chair the taskforce, which will also include union, employer and legal representatives.

They will deliver their advice to the state government later this year.

READ MORE: Victorian councils failing to provide workplaces that are free from sexual harassment, audit finds

A consultation-informed mandatory incident notification scheme that requires employers to notify WorkSafe Victoria of workplace sexual harassment will be a key aspect of the reform program, according to Stitt.

“A mandatory incident notification scheme will ensure the onus is not just on victims to report, but that employers have clear obligations — and will mean sexual harassment can’t be swept under the carpet,” she said in a statement.

WorkSafe and the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission will also sign a Memorandum of Understanding allowing them to share information, refer inquiries and complaints to each other, and collaborate on inspections, education and promotional activities to address workplace sexual harassment.

WorkSafe inspectors will also receive targeted training on best-practice responses for sexual harassment incidents, the state government said.

Coinciding with the creation of the taskforce and International Women’s Day, WorkSafe has also launched a new campaign that aims to raise awareness of what workplace harassment is, and encourage staff to call out unacceptable behaviour.

It will also educate employers on their responsibilities, including that failing to protect their staff from workplace sexual harassment is against the law.

The Victorian government has made the announcements just weeks after former federal ministerial staffer Brittany Higgins alleged that she had been raped by a colleague at Parliament House in 2019, and allegations of sexual assault were made against federal attorney-general Christian Porter.

READ MORE: Victoria appoints first gender equality commissioner


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