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Employers must report sexual harassment under proposed new Victorian rules

Melissa Davey
·4-min read
<span>Photograph: James Ross/AAP</span>
Photograph: James Ross/AAP

Employers will be required to notify statutory authority WorkSafe about any incidents of workplace sexual harassment after the Victorian government announced the formation of a ministerial group tasked with reforming workplace culture.

The state’s premier, Daniel Andrews, said the ministerial taskforce on workplace sexual harassment would develop strategies to prevent and better respond to sexual harassment in workplaces. As part of this, consultation will begin on a mandatory incident notification scheme.

WorkSafe and the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission will share information, refer inquiries and complaints to each other and collaborate on inspections, education and promotional activities. WorkSafe inspectors will also undergo targeted training on best-practice responses to sexual harassment incidents.

Related: Decrease in Australia's gender pay gap partly due to more men in lower-paid work

The taskforce will include union, employer and legal representatives to consider ways to strengthen the occupational health and safety framework to address sexual harassment, clarify employer obligations to boost accountability, encourage and support workers to speak up and consider measures to prevent the misuse of non-disclosure agreements in sexual harassment matters.

According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, one in three people have been sexually harassed at work in the past five years.

Victoria’s workplace safety minister, Ingrid Stitt, said: “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.”

The CEO of Gender Equity Victoria, Tanja Kovac, said a national taskforce was needed, and this would be among the measures women would be calling for as they take part in March 4 Justice events taking place throughout the country on 15 March. The main March 4 Justice event will take place in front of Parliament House in Canberra, following the allegations in recent weeks of rape and sexual assault levelled against a former political staffer and the attorney general, Christian Porter, who has categorically denied any wrongdoing.

“Safeguarding our women politicians and their staffers and ensuring they can participate in democracy without being subject to sexual violence has to be one of the prime issues that we need to address,” Kovac said. “If we’re going to have those people making decisions about policies and legislation and budgetary investment, we’ve got to have safe and equal workplaces, and for that we’ve got to have a safe and and equal parliament. You can’t have perpetrators as policymakers.”

She said while details of the mandatory notification scheme in Victoria still needed to be consulted on and finalised, its key function should be to hold workplaces to account, and hold them to their obligations to keep workplaces free of gendered violence.

Related: Rage and despair: how the culture of parliament follows women after they leave

“There are ways that could be explored in a mandatory system, including through the de-identification of individual complainants,” she said. “If a complainant does not wish to proceed with an individual investigation, it would still enable the workplace to have a responsibility for notifying WorkSafe that there was an incident so a record could be kept about what is going on in that workplace.”

The federal Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, told reporters on Monday – which is also International Women’s Day – that on average, women still earn $242 per week less than men. He proposed legislation to address the gender pay gap so that companies with more than 250 employees will have to report their gender pay gap publicly.

“What we know is that companies already have to report the gender pay data to the workplace gender equality agency, but at the moment, no one knows what the outcomes are. That makes no sense,” Albanese said.

“It will be reported in both managerial and non-managerial pay components as well.”

Labor will also ban secrecy clauses that prevent workers from discussing their pay, he said.

Albanese also called on the defence minister, Linda Reynolds, to resign or be fired after she extended her sick leave by three weeks amid the ongoing controversy over her handling of Brittany Higgins’ rape allegation. Reynolds has apologised after it was revealed last week she called Higgins a “lying cow” in front of staff – a remark she has said was made in response to media reports about her handling of the incident and not about the allegation itself.

Albanese said Reynolds’ position was “untenable” and the comments “just completely unacceptable”.

“It sends all the wrong messages to women who are brave enough to come forward and Brittany Higgins has shown incredible bravery,” he said.