OHS seen as not up to the task on sexual harassment

Then submissions to the Senate Committee inquiry into the Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill reveal some interesting perspectives on occupational health and safety (OHS) from Australian businesses and other organisations.

The Kingsford Legal Centre says this of the work health and safety approach to sexual harassment:

“WHS law is designed to manage work health and safety risks which are many and varied and are distinct from gendered violence and discrimination. Many cases of sexual harassment and sex discrimination are not an easy fit for the WHS framework. WHS legislation is state and territory based and relying on WHS legislation does not address the Commonwealth’s international human rights obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). In also not naming the gendered nature of the issue, WHS law risks overlooking keys to prevention and culture change which are central to the Respect@Work Report.
While WHS processes may in some cases run parallel to complaints of discrimination or sexual harassment, there are fundamental ways in which WHS law differs in the management of claims. Most obviously there is not a clear process for people who have experienced discrimination and harassment to be allowed to speak through a conciliation process about the impact of such behaviour on them and seek specific forms of redress. We know from our research in this regard that this process is important in resolving complaints impacting on human rights and reflects a complainant-centred process. WHS law does not approach injuries in such a way.”

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Forces amass against the prevention of workplace sexual harassment

Most of Australia’s media has cooled its reporting on the sexual harassment law reforms championed by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins. Partly this relates to revised laws being proposed in Parliament later this year and that are currently subject to a Senate Committee Inquiry. The media coverage on the proposed laws and the senate inquiry has been thin with only the Australian Financial Review (AFR) giving it any serious attention.

However, research reports on sexual harassment in Australian workplaces continue to appear and the transcripts of the Senate Committee’s public hearings are publicly available, as are the submissions made by, primarily, business and law organisations. What is missing is the involvement of the occupational health and safety profession.

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More OHS information on Midfield Meats

Recently The Monthly magazine took a close look at the labour practices of Midfield Meats (paywalled), a major Warrnambool company and meat exporter that had been, yet again, successfully prosecuted by WorkSafe Victoria. There are workplace safety elements to The Monthly’s story that were not as prominent as other issues and there were some questions for companies and governments that have supported Midfield in the past.

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Why have Australian workplaces become safer?

The number of work-related fatalities in Australia is declining. Plenty are claiming credit for this, but no one knows for sure which prevention strategies have been successful over the last twenty-odd years and/or to what degree. Australia’s recent Intergenerational Report may offer some clues to the reasons for this decline in traumatic workplace deaths and a way forward. This article dips into the 200-page report.

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Speak Global, Implement Local

Most of the international reporting in June 2021 was about the G7 meeting, but the International Labour Organisation (ILO) also conducted a World of Work Summit as part of its 109th International Labor Conference. Several world leaders recorded messages for the event, and two are particularly interesting – President Joe Biden and Pope Francis. Such statements do have global influence and can support local occupational health and safety (OHS) initiatives.

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The restricted state of knowledge – NDAs and OHS

A core element of the management of occupational health and safety (OHS) is creating and maintaining a “state of knowledge” on hazards and risks. There is an enormous amount of information already available in various OHS encyclopaedias, wikis and bodies of knowledge, but some of the most important information continues to be locked up in non-disclosure agreements and confidentiality clauses. On the issue of workplace sexual harassment, a recently established inquiry in Victoria, Australia, is set to look at the mechanisms that are principally used to protect the reputation of companies and executives but that could also have broader OHS benefits.

Liberty Sanger and Bronwyn Halfpenny are heading a task force designed by the Victorian Government to

“…develop reforms that will prevent and better respond to sexual harassment in workplaces.”

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Look to the greed behind the corporate culture

Today the Governance Institute of Australia distributed a promotional email for its September national conference. These conferences often provide a useful perspective on broad occupational health and safety (OHS) issues. One gets to see how OHS is seen to fit (if at all!) in the established business and governance structures.

A key theme of this year’s conference is Culture which is a critical issue for most companies, even if they don’t realise it, and one with which the OHS profession is very familiar. However, the Institute, its members and conference delegates should be challenged to analyse Culture more deeply than what is indicated in the promotional email and article.

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