Legislative change to make workplaces safer for women

On 23 and 24 February, ASMOF's Industrial team attended the annual Union Lawyers and Industrial Officers Conference (ULIO) at Sydney Trades Hall.  

There was a fantastic lineup of international and Australian speakers, and the topics included: 

  • Secure Jobs, Better Pay reforms, including the new provisions on bargaining, enterprise agreements and gender equity measures.  
  • [email protected] reforms to the Sex Discrimination Act and the Fair Work Act. 
  • New developments in general protections, stand down, case law, and family and domestic violence leave. 

Julie O'Brien, Director Australian Human Rights Commission, provided an informative update on the [email protected] reforms to the Sex Discrimination Act and the Fair Work Act.  

In December 2022, the Labor Government passed the landmark [email protected] bill, which legislated seven key recommendations made to Parliament.  These changes now cover state public sector employees and our members working in AHOs and the private sector.

What are the key changes, and why are they so significant? 

  1. New provisions that prohibit conduct that subjects another person to a workplace environment that is hostile on the grounds of sex.
  1. The introduction of a positive duty in the Sexual Discrimination Act on all employers to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate sex discrimination, sexual harassment and sex-based harassment, hostile environments and victimisation at work. 
  1. New provisions in the Australian Human Rights Commission Act which enable the Australian Human Rights Commission to monitor and assess compliance with the positive duty and also gives AHRC enforcement powers for the first time.
  1. New provisions in the AHRC Act to provide the AHRC with a broad inquiry function to inquire into systemic unlawful discrimination or suspected systemic unlawful discrimination.
  1. Amendments to the AHRC Act that enable representative bodies such as unions to make representative applications on behalf of people who have experienced unlawful discrimination in the federal courts. 
  1. Amendments to the Workplace Gender Equality Act to require the Commonwealth public sector to report to WGEA. 

These changes apply to state public servants. ASMOF will advocate for improvements directly to NSW Health Policy and processes in responding to and reporting on sexual harassment.  

What steps should those in management positions take now in light of the new legislation? 

All hospitals and LHDs / Networks must review and improve the systems they have in place to manage sexual harassment. The Steps HR and management (including medical managers) must take at a local level include the following:  

  • encouraging workers to report sexual harassment 
  • managing reports and complaints effectively and sensitively and in a trauma-informed way 
  • take action where appropriate against perpetrators 
  • provide information, instruction, training and supervision to prevent unlawful behaviour 

The laws are unambiguous – employers must prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.  

If you're experiencing harassment at work, please contact [email protected] for confidential advice and support.