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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COVID19 controls for sex work safety

Source: Ian Dyball, istockphoto

Thinking about the occupational health and safety (OHS) issues of sex work is fascinating and, to some, titillating. But work is work and the OHS issues are just as real in a room in a brothel as in any other workplace. The workplace hazards presented by COVID19 to the Australian sex industry have been identified and addressed in some excellent OHS advice from Scarlet Alliance.

Sex workers need to screen clients already for visible signs of sexually transmitted diseases so personal questions about health and infections is already part of the customer relations. (There are also requirements for customers to shower or wash prior to services) The questions asked in relation to COVID19 are the same as asked elsewhere:

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OHS, organisational culture, sex abuse and the Catholic Church

The discussion of “organisational culture” has tried to remain apolitical or amoral, but it always relies of case studies to illustrate the academic and ephemeral. Largely these studies involve major disasters, but few people work in heavy industry, chemical plants, or offshore oil rigs. Better examples could be sought by looking at other industries, such as the Catholic Church. (I really hope someone is examining this relationship in a PhD)

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Gender, OHS and Checklists

The topicality and importance of many issues highlighted in early 2020 have disappeared. One of them was the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace and Libby Lyons, Director of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, has released the speech she intended to give at the, now cancelled, Commission on the Status of Women meeting at the United Nations. Lyons said this about sexual harassment and employers:

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Sexual harassment changes are percolating slowly

Discussion on the report into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces went missing last weekend which included International Women’s Day. March 8 generalised much of the discussion on the need for new approaches to feminism, wages and gender equity. This is not to say that organisations had forgotten about the National Inquiry’s Final Report or the occupational health and safety (OHS) context, but few were as blunt about the issue as broadcaster Virginia Trioli and workplace lawyer Liberty Sanger on ABC radio this week.

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Final Sexual Harassment Inquiry report

“The Sex Discrimination Commissioner has come out with something that is clear, which is that sexual harassment is a workplace right, is a health and safety right, is a human right.” [??!!]

What would be more accurate and reflective of Michele O’Neil’s position is that workers have a human, health and safety, and workplace right to a workplace that is without the risk of sexual harassment.  The ACTU President gets the message right in the official media release.

O’Neill urges the Morrison Government to take the final report into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces and its recommendations seriously and it should, but the signs are not good.  The mainstream media coverage of the Workplace Sexual Harassment Inquiry’s report has been thin. 

Continue reading “Final Sexual Harassment Inquiry report”

Accountability in all that we do

“The way we do things around here” is a rough explanation to what many people mean by culture and, especially, a workplace safety culture. A culture is built or strengthened through personal interaction, conversations, relationship and a shared responsibility. Part of this is an expectation that workers will look out for each (which is also a legislative obligation), and crucial to this is the concept of the “ethical bystander“.

But recently this concept was applied in a new way in an American Court when a woman, Lisa Ricchio, who was kept and sexually assaulted repeatedly in a hotel room, sued the hotel alleging that the hotel owners financially benefited from the crime.

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