A national inquiry into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces has been announced by the sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins.
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, according to Jenkins.
She added that the National Inquiry will involve an in-depth examination of sexual harassment in the workplace, nation-wide consultation and extensive research.
“Importantly, the Inquiry will provide employees, employers and all members of the public with an opportunity to participate in developing a solution to ensure Australian workplaces are safe and respectful for everyone.”
The news was welcomed by the Diversity Council Australia (DCA) CEO Lisa Annese said sex discrimination, especially in the form of sexual harassment, is widespread.
“Thanks to the #MeToo and #NowAustralia movements, we are finally having a conversation about the high personal and economic cost,” Annese said.
“This official, in-depth examination of businesses practices and cultures is an important part of changing the culture of silence around sexual harassment and discrimination.
“The time for sexual harassment in Australian workplaces to be exposed is well overdue. We need change. And this is a step in the right direction.”
Annese added that the DCA will be consulting with members, where appropriate, to contribute to this important inquiry, as well as supporting member organisations to ensure they have appropriate referral processes in place.
The Australian Human Rights Commission is currently conducting the fourth national survey into workplace sexual harassment, with results expected to be released in August.
Jenkins said 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,” said Jenkins.
“We will examine the current Australian legal framework on sexual harassment, including a review of complaints made to state and territory anti-discrimination agencies.
“In making our recommendations, we will consider the changing work environment and existing good practice being undertaken by employers to prevent and respond to workplace sexual harassment.”
Jenkins added that there is an appetite for change and a “growing realisation” that sexual harassment is not inevitable – “it is unacceptable and it is preventable”.
“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.”