CANBERRA, Australia — The Scott Morrison government has promised changes to make Australian workplaces safer, but critics say the plan does not go far enough to combat sexual harassment.
The government has released its response to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Respect@Work report, promising to make politicians and judges subject to the same laws as the Australian public.
Sexual harassment will be a valid reason for dismissal and included in the definition of serious workplace misconduct.
Victims will have also two years to bring complaints forward rather than six months.
But the government did not commit to implementing all 55 recommendations.
Assistant minister for women Amanda Stoker says it supports them either in exact terms or in spirit.
In some instances the government disagrees on how Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, who conducted the report, recommended they occur.
“We see where you’re coming from, but we’re going to do it a slightly different way,” Senator Stoker said on April 9.
One recommendation is to change sex discrimination laws to force all employers to proactively take measures to eliminate the behavior.
However, the government is only promising to assess whether that change would create complexity, noting similar provisions in work health and safety legislation.
There was also a call for the Human Rights Commission to have broad powers to investigate systemic harassment.
While releasing the response on April 8, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said sexual harassment was unacceptable.
Labor is challenging him to dump Queensland MP Andrew Laming to show he takes those words seriously.
Laming is on paid leave to undertake empathy training after being accused of harassing two female constituents and taking a photo of a woman while she was bending over.
He is quitting at the next election, but Morrison has resisted calls to dump him from the coalition party room with the government holding a wafer-thin majority in the lower house
Senior Labor senator Kristina Keneally said Morrison’s response to the report could not be taken seriously while Laming was a member of government.
“Stop sheltering Andrew Laming,” she told reporters in Sydney.
Labor is also calling on the government to introduce 10 days of paid domestic violence leave.
Shine Lawyers’ head of employment law Samantha Mangwana says it’s important for the government to enact the recommendations in the report.
Australian Council of Trade Unions President Michele O’Neil is concerned the response doesn’t go far enough.
“It’s a road map with big potholes in it, and unfortunately the victims of sexual harassment — many women and some men — are going to fall through those holes,” she said.
(Edited by Amrita Das and Ritaban Misra)
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