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Published: 25 June 2018
Author: Mark Comito

National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces is Welcomed by Lawyers

As a firm that has practised employment law for over 40 years, we welcome the world first "National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces" to be conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Even though Ryan Carlisle Thomas and Stringer Clark offers a workplace that takes great pride in equal opportunity and a Board of partners with an equal split of men and women, this is not the reality in many businesses across the country.

The voice of women is growing louder and people are listening

The Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, said the global conversation about sexual harassment and the #MeToo movement has exposed the true prevalence of the problem and the harm it causes to individuals, workplaces and society.

In addition, this week we saw thousands of people gather at Princess Park and around the country for a candlelit vigil in memory of Eurydice Dixon, following the tragic passing of Ms Dixon. Victorians united to pay their respects for an innocent and young woman, and to show solidarity on a woman’s right to be able to be able to simply walk home at night – particularly in a place recognised as one of the most liveable cities in the world.

The Australian media is reporting an imbalance, and as lawyers we have seen this imbalance as we have represented women in matters of sexual harassment for the last few decades at least

Following the Harvey Weinstein case in October 2017, our firm has experienced increased enquiries related to sexual harassment. We anticipate that as the movement grows, so too will the reporting and the cases.

We welcome the Inquiry as it shows leadership by the Commission in an important and significant area of our social and workplace fabric, and sends a very clear message to Australian men and women, and employers and employees alike, that sexual harassment is unacceptable in the workplace.

What are the facts?

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2016, 17% of women said they had been sexually harassed in the past year. This is up from 15% in 2012 and for men, it has risen from 6.6% to 9.3%.

What will the Inquiry achieve?

The Australian Human Rights Commission is currently conducting the fourth national survey into workplace sexual harassment, with results expected to be released in August. Early indications show that rates have increased significantly since the last survey was conducted in 2012.

The Commission will:

  • use the findings of the national survey to identify the scale and nature of the problem across a range of industry sectors;
  • examine the current Australian legal framework on sexual harassment, including a review of complaint processes and procedures made to state and territory anti-discrimination agencies; 
  • the drivers of workplace sexual harassment; and will
  • make a series of recommendations in consideration of the changing work environment and existing good practice being undertaken by employers to prevent and respond to workplace sexual harassment.

As a male who has always encouraged equal opportunities for both women and men in the workforce, I concur with Commissioner Jenkins recent statement.

“We need to continue working to create a society where this kind of conduct is unthinkable, and where sexual harassment at work is not something people simply have to put up with. I believe this national inquiry is a huge step in the right direction,” said Kate Jenkins.