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Home > News > 2019 > April > Time's Up: Urgent action needed to end sexual harassment in Australian workplaces

Time's Up: Urgent action needed to end sexual harassment in Australian workplaces

A landmark survey by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has revealed the prevalence of sexual harassment in Australian workplaces with two in three women and one in three men affected.


Following responses from nearly 10,000 workers, the ACTU revealed more than 60% of respondents had witnessed sexual harassment in their workplace – of which 65% did not make a formal complaint and 41% did not tell anybody at all about the behaviour. 

ACTU President Michele O’Neil said everyone should be able to go to work without being subjected to discrimination, harassment or violence.

“For many people – mainly women – this is not the reality.These survey results show that sexual harassment remains a persistent and widespread problem in Australian workplaces, which means our current laws are failing to protect Australian workers,” Ms O’Neil said.

“Complaint processes are too complex and costly. Many do not complain at all for fear of victimisation or lack of faith in the process,” Ms O’Neil said.

The survey found that the main reason those who had experienced sexual harassment did not make a formal complaint was that they feared negative repercussions.

Out of 9,607 respondents:

2 in 3 women and 1 in 3 men have been subjected to sexual harassment

• 69% had experienced rude or offensive behaviour

• 48% experienced unwanted sexual attention

• 35% experienced inappropriate touching

• 18% received explicit texts, emails or messages on social media

• 8% experienced sexual coercion

Our workplace laws have failed to protect workers

Australia’s current framework fails to effectively ensure employers create harassment free workplaces. Instead, our laws burden the individual to address sexual harassment.

IEUA Federal Assistant Secretary Christine Cooper said there is no meaningful requirement on employers to implement effective, proactive measures to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

“There is no enforcement nor compliance mechanism to ensure the 

prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace,” Ms Cooper said.

“The provisions within the Fair Work Act 2009 are weak and unworkable in cases for sexual harassment at work.

“The Workplace Health and Safety laws and regulations do not adequately acknowledge nor protect workers from the psychosocial impacts of sexual harassment.”

An integrated approach is needed 

Sexual harassment is a complex issue arising from a range of behaviours and risks that cannot be addressed in isolation. 

It is a consequence of power imbalance and therefore inherently implicates the wider issue of gender equality in the workplace.

Ms Cooper said that sexual harassment is a workplace issue and substantial reforms are needed to seriously address the conditions which allow sexual harassment to occur.

“The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has called for an integrated approach to address sexual harassment in the workplace,” Ms Cooper said.

“Such an approach should involve stronger anti-discrimination laws, improvements to industrial and workplace health and safety laws and practice, as well as nonregulatory measures such as education campaigns.”

It is crucial that regulatory responses acknowledge that sexual harassment is:

• A form of sex discrimination;

• A type of gender-based violence;

• A symptom of gender inequality at work; and

• A psychological health and safety risk.

Campaign to end sexual harassment at work

Workers who are sexually harassed need access to fair, effective and efficient complaints mechanisms.

Workers need the power to act collectively through their unions to create safe and healthy work environments.

This can only be achieved through collective action campaigning.

Time’s up.

Our union joins with ACTU unions to Change The Rules and address sexual harassment in the workplace.

If you have been sexually harassed in the workplace contact our union immediately on 1300 177 937.

Read a full copy of the ACTU sexual harassment survey findings at https://www.australianunions.org.au/sh_survey_results

Authorised by Terry Burke, Independent Education Union of Australia – Queensland & Northern Territory Branch, Brisbane.