SEX DISCRIMINATION COMMISSIONER
AUSTRALIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION
SDA VICTORIA BRANCH, MELBOURNE
29 OCTOBER, 2019
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I would like to begin my remarks today by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the people of the Kulin nations.
I am proud to live in a country that is the home of the oldest continuous living culture on earth; grateful for many thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in Australia today who continue to care for our land and I am sorry for the devastating impact that 250 years of colonisation has had on the First Peoples of this country.
Given this history, in acknowledging the traditional custodians of this land I also recognise the courage, resilience and generosity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people.
I am pleased to be here today to launch Everyone’s business: Survey on sexual harassment of
members of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association.
The SDA represents workers in the retail, fast food, warehousing, and hair and beauty sectors, as well as pharmacy assistants.
Every Australian can identify with these industries. We know people who work in these industries. Of the total employed population in Australia around 10% work in retail trade, and another 7% in accommodation and food services.
We know that these are the industries in which many of us had our first job , (myself included) and this continues to be true today for our children, and grandchildren.
We also all are regular customers in these industries: whether buying our groceries, getting our hair cut, collecting our prescriptions, Christmas shopping, enjoying a coffee in a cafe, or swinging by the local takeaway drive-through.
This is why some of the written responses to our survey have such impact. One respondent said:
“Wearing a badge with our name on it makes customers and sexual predators feel comfortable enough to harass us under the guise of friendliness. It also allows them to think that because they know your name they are entitled to other personal information about you and to touch you. Wearing a name badge also makes it incredibly easy for those same predators to go home and look us up online and then harass us from the comfort of their homes too.”
“My harasser sits outside my work in the food court and watches me as I work. If I notice him he averts his eyes but not for long. He also does his grocery shopping in my store and on the last occasion brought his wife with him. He has also started parking his vehicle closer to mine so I see it when I leave work.”
Nobody should have to put up with this type of unacceptable behaviour at work. And yet we heard that harassment occurs in big and small business. That’s why it’s everyone’s business to eliminate sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment in Australian workplaces is widespread, and unacceptable. In June 2018 I announced a National Inquiry on this issue to examine the systemic drivers of workplace sexual harassment, as well as the adequacy of the current legal framework and other measures to address its occurrence and impact.
The National Inquiry builds on, and complements, the substantial evidence base that the Australian Human Rights Commission has built through four national surveys on this issue.
The establishment of the National Inquiry is a clear acknowledgment of the government’s, and our community’s, commitment to addressing workplace sexual harassment.
The recognition of the problem and commitment of employers is also vital to ensuring all necessary steps are taken to prevent workplace sexual harassment.
In 2018, the Australian Human Rights Commission published its fourth National Survey report on the prevalence, nature and reporting of workplace sexual harassment in Australia.
The 2018 National Survey told us that the national prevalence rate for workplace sexual harassment over the last 5 years was 33%. That means, one in every three Australian workers experienced sexual harassment at work in the last 5 years.
There were a number of industries that reported prevalence rates higher than the national rate. These included retail trade, and accommodation and food services - the industries in which many members of the SDA are employed.
In response to these concerning results the SDA approached the Commission to conduct a comprehensive survey of its members.
I would like to take this opportunity to commend the SDA, in particular Julia Fox and Katie Biddlestone, for their leadership and dedication to addressing workplace sexual harassment.
The 2019 Member Survey of SDA members was modelled on the 2018 National Survey and provides an evidence base on:
- Members’ experiences of sexual harassment, both throughout their lifetime, and specifically in the workplace
- Details about who sexually harassed them and where in a work-context they were sexually harassed
- Whether anyone witnessed them being sexually harassed, and how that person responded
- What the health and well-being impacts of this experience has been.
In addition to these questions, SDA members were also asked a series of questions that address the customer-facing nature of their work.
These additional questions focused on the role of customers, campaigns, clothing and workplace policies, procedures and training in the prevalence of sexual harassment.
The results clearly tell us, that as for many Australians, workplace sexual harassment is a reality for many SDA members.
The impact of workplace sexual harassment is significant.
The publication of this industry-specific data provides a unique opportunity to better understand the drivers and opportunities for change in SDA industries.
I encourage employers and workers in the retail, fast food, warehousing and other SDA sectors to use this report to work together on action to ensure their workplaces are free from sexual harassment.
Once again I would like to congratulate the SDA on the leadership they have shown in commissioning this report and advocating for workplaces free from sexual harassment for their members, and all workers. Thank you.