Madam Speaker, the revelations of the past several weeks from both federal parliament and the wider community, bring to the fore yet again the plight of many women in society and the unsafe spaces which workplaces can and do create.
While by no means isolated to Canberra and federal politics, it is particularly galling that the most recently spotlighted instances of sexual assault, rape and other awful behaviour have occurred in Parliament House.
Madam speaker it should be uncontroversial to say that this is foul behaviour, but can any of us here even claim that we are especially surprised?
Because I think what we are seeing here, Madam speaker is an intersection. What we are observing, is the natural consequence of institutionally entrenched misogyny and classism.
Madam speaker I have worked in several industries before I was elected to this place and federal parliament certainly isn’t the only place where problems exist, this is a societal problem…….
What we have right now is eyewatering inequity and it is incumbent us to do what we can to combat this disparity.
Work health and safety is one of the most important elements of our working lives. We have come a long way over the centuries in developing this code of laws, regulations and legal precedents that keep us safe at work.
There would not be one member of this assembly who doesn’t understand the importance and history of work health and safety regulation. We are a long way from bygone days of systemic lost fingers, systemic industrial deafness and conditions that caused the deaths of 16 people while building the Sydney harbour bridge. However, unacceptable accidents and workplace deaths do still happen, even in the ACT.
Clearly, there is still a way to go. Any situation where a worker does not come home from work is unacceptable. Work to prevent physical risks and their tragic outcomes continues in this place. It also continues within the union movement. Union members have been pivotal in pushing change throughout Australia’s history and they continue to do so.
While much progress has been made over past decades to reduce risks to the physical health and safety of workers, there is comparatively a lot more work to do when it comes to psychosocial health and safety at work.
Like with all psychological stress or injury, evidence of this stress or injury in the workplace may not be as obvious as physical stress or injury. Likewise, the risks which are responsible for psychosocial stress and injury, aren’t always as obvious as they might be for physical stress or injury.
However, they can be just as dangerous and impactful.
Psychosocial injury at work can be debilitating to a person. Anxiety disorders, depression and in extreme cases post traumatic stress disorder can all occur after prolonged exposure to dangerous workplace pressures.
Psychosocial injury can impact the lives of victims in many ways. Professional performance can be impacted severely by injury at work. In some cases colloquially referred to as “burn out”, loss of motivation, ability and output can occur quickly and dramatically. This impacts both the employee and the organisation for which they work.
Most importantly, these impacts can severely disrupt the lives of workers. PTSD can be a crippling condition which makes socialising and doing daily tasks difficult and stressful. The effects of psychosocial injury are broad, and can be severe and dangerous. Suicide can and has been an outcome resulting from psychosocial injury at work, including from bullying and harassment and sexual harassment.
The risks and impacts of these injuries are felt by workers in all sectors Madam Speaker.
It’s been well documented that bullying and sexual harassment are still major issues in the hospitality sector. I’d like to give voice to a statement from a young woman who is a current hospitality worker and union member.
As a woman who has worked in the hospitality industry for a decade, I know all too well how present and widespread sexual assault is throughout the industry. This harassment comes not only from the customers you serve but also your co-workers, managers and bosses, and it can feel almost never-ending at times.
With work in hospitality totally insecure, being highly casualised and the status of your employment often relying solely on how much the person writing the rosters likes you, it can feel like an absolutely daunting task to raise concerns to your superiors about sexual harassment occurring in your workplace. Even worse, when you do, your problems are often diminished and dismissed, totally swept under the rug. You’re made to feel like you are the problem, for reacting at all.
This attitude needs to change. Workplaces need to improve. I don’t want to see another generation of young people entering this industry only to be harassed, exploited and beaten down, to become hardened and angry, like myself and so many others are, from the poor treatment we ourselves and our fellow co-workers receive.
Media reports have exposed a multitude of law firms where excessive work hours are culturalized as normal and lead to subsequent incidences of burn out and other psychosocial trauma.
Workplaces where workloads reach excesses of 60 and 70 hours a week are not safe workplaces.
Psychosocial injuries account for approximately 30 percent of the cost of all Comcare claims.
Sexual harassment, bullying and other psychosocial risks at work, and their mitigation, are not areas of workplace safety which are particularly well defined, regulated or enforced.
Our work health and safety legislative framework in the ACT is based off the Model WHS Act and it’s regulations. These are harmonised and uniform in every state and territory except Victoria.
The Model Act and it’s associated regulations put the primary onus of Work Health and Safety on the Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking. They must take all reasonable steps, in consultation with the workers and Health and Safety Representatives elected in workgroups, to reduce risks to health and safety in their workplace.
The Model regulations provide for some reasonably specific risk mitigation rules for all sorts of hazards – lead, confined spaces, demolition work…. The regulations are 529 pages long. Not one section deals with psychosocial health.
That is why the motion on the notice paper calls on the government to amend the notification section of the ACT WHS Act to include psychosocial hazards, develop regulations under the act that incorporate psychosocial hazards and develop a code of practice. These changes will better enable a proactive and preventative approach in workplaces to create a prevention based work environment. Development of guidelines to address gender-based violence, including sexual harassment in the workplace, as part of the Code of Practice will additionally aid the creation of prevention focused workplaces as opposed to reactive workplaces.
This will keep the territory’s WHS framework in line with the intent of the model Act while also providing a mechanism to begin to really deal with these issues in ACT workplaces.
Madam speaker, it is important to codify these changes in law as opposed to waiting for cultural change or encouraging employers to implement them of their own volition. Employee assistance programs, nap rooms and yoga classes to deal with the stress of excessive work loads are not reasonable risk mitigation measures if workloads are still excessive.
Waiting for meaningful change to come from employers has broadly never worked for work health and safety and probably never will. It has always been the work of union members and legislatures which have moved safety standards in the right direction.
As such, the motion also calls on the government to consult with worker’s representatives regarding the implementation of these changes. I am confident that the Minister for Workplace Safety and Industrial relations will find an appropriate forum in which to undertake this consultation.
As part of this policy direction, the motion moved in my name includes a call for regulations, a code of practise and guidelines to be developed in order to help PCBUs to comply with any new framework. This is of benefit to both employers and employees as workplace safety and culture affects everyone.
Madam Speaker, It is also important that the ACT begins to make this change rather than waiting for changes to the Model Act and regulations to be agreed. The last meeting of WHS ministers, which are organised by the federal minister, occurred two and a half years ago and little to no progress has been made on implementing the recommendations of either the Boland Review nor the [email protected] inquiry.
Madam Speaker, there are a number of references in this motion to the [email protected] inquiry and report which was released in 2020 by the Australian Human Rights Commission. This National inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces identified widespread sexual harassment in many industries and among different demographics.
It recommends a change in the way that this issue is dealt with, including a move towards prevention and hazard identification as opposed to post-incident management. The report also calls for changes to the Federal Sex Discrimination Act. These policy directions are set out in the motion I am moving today.
Additionally, the motion also calls on the government to take into consideration the principles of recommendation 17 of the [email protected] Report when further reviewing our own Discrimination Act in the future.
The Boland Review, is a 2019 report on a review of the Model Work Health and Safety laws. The report makes 39 recommendations in total, amongst which are recommendations around psychosocial health and risk identification in the regulatory framework. It has food recommendations.
The Federal Government has made no effort to implement the recommendations from these reports. It is not interested in fixing the psychosocial work health safety framework in regards to sexual harassment and bullying, or any other issues.
Madam Speaker, the motion appearing on the notice paper in my name also calls on the ACT Government to include some statistics in the State of the Service Report and also to require that these statistics be provided by government partners and contractors in relation to the period in which they are contracted by the government.
These statistics pertain to Non-disclosure agreements entered into because of bullying and harassment and sexual harassment and also incidents of both bullying and harassment and sexual harassment.
Madam speaker, in many workplaces, non-disclosure agreements are used by powerful individuals to effectively silence victims of bullying and harassment and sexual harassment in exchange for provision of compensation after incidents, compensation which in reality should come without strings attached.
If these practises are occurring in the ACTPS or entities contracted to or working with the ACT Government, the Canberra community deserves to know. Very often, Non-disclosure Agreements are used as a method of protecting the identity of perpetrators of bullying, harassment and sexual harassment. This sort of measure would not pass the pub test if it were to occur in the ACTPS due to bullying or sexual harassment. This section of my motion does not call on the government or anyone else to reveal details of any non-disclosure agreement, for obvious privacy and legal reasons. It merely calls for some more transparency about how public money is being spent and to ensure public money isn’t being spent in ways that might not be in the public interest.
Finally I’d like to just note that the motion I have moved also calls on the government to write to the Federal Government and call on them to ratify ILO Convention 190 on workplace violence and harassment. This should already been done by the Federal Government, but that would be a step too far for them – they would have to do something about it.
In conclusion Madam Speaker, while recent revelations from federal parliament have shone a particularly bright light on these issues, they have always been there. Workplace safety includes psychosocial safety and certainly has a gendered lens. The federal government needs to do more to implement the recommendations of the Boland Report and the [email protected] inquiry. In the meantime, these are measures that I urge the government to take in the meantime. I commend the motion to the assembly.