More needs to be done to help businesses and employees deal with workplace sexual harassment, the head of a local centre against assault says.
Kate Wright, the CEO of Loddon Mallee Centre Against Sexual Assault, says the need is greater than ever, with a rise in workplace sexual harassment decades after the introduction of sexual discrimination laws.
Her comments come ahead of Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins’ address to the National Press Club on Wednesday, when she will outline the results of a national survey into workplace sexual harassment.
Workers in regional areas often have less alternative work options and are fearful of losing work if they complain, which makes them more vulnerable and less likely to complain about unlawful conduct.Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins
The survey is a key plank in Australia’s first inquiry into the issue, which is being undertaken by the Australian Human Rights Commission.
The survey will be a prelude to visits to capital cities and several regional centres and data will help shape strategies for change as some question how effective federal and state laws dealing with sexual harassment are.
One of those people is Ms Wright, who hopes the inquiry’s eventual recommendations will cover how legislation is applied and also raise people’s awareness levels.
Business and employees need more support
Ms Write said part of the problem at the moment is that some businesses and managers do not feel equipped to deal sexual harassment.
“It’s really important that out of the review businesses can be given some tools and be supported to look at their systems, to respond to harassment as it occurs,” she said.
“And that their employees can be given the tools and resources to report harassment as it occurs.”
Commissioner Jenkins said people in rural, regional and remote areas are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment and often have less access to support.
“Workers in regional areas often have less alternative work options and are fearful of losing work if they complain, which makes them more vulnerable and less likely to complain about unlawful conduct,” she said.
Yet working in a safe environment free from sexual harassment was a basic human right.
The Australian Human Right Commission’s last workplace sexual assault survey, released in 2012, found one in four women and one in six men had been sexually harassed at work in the last five years.
Last June, Ms Jenkins said early results of the workplace survey suggested rates of harassment had increased “significantly” since 2012.
They (businesses) can’t avoid that it is occurring. The data is compelling.Kate Wright, the CEO of Loddon Mallee Centre Against Sexual Assault
Ms Wright hoped the inquiry would not only highlight their experiences, but the dangers to businesses of inaction.
“There’s a huge risk and economic impact to the business where the behavior has occurred.
“I think that will hopefully be the lever for business to take it seriously, just like they have with other workplace safety issues.
“I’m hoping that will be one main change.”
Both Commissioner Jenkins and Ms Wright had detected a desire for change.
Ms Wright was part of a statewide sexual harassment working group and said businesses, peak bodies and unions taking the issue really seriously.
“They can’t avoid that it is occurring. The data is compelling,” she said.
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