Workplace sexual harassment remains a reality for too many working Australians.
In 2018 the Australian Human Rights Commission (the Commission) published its fourth national report on the prevalence, nature and reporting of workplace sexual harassment in Australia (2018 National Survey). In early 2020 the Commission will publish the findings of its National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces (the National Inquiry).
The time for breakthrough leadership on workplace sexual harassment is now.
The 2018 National Survey report identified that one in three (33%) working Australians had experienced sexual harassment at work in the last five years. A number of industries reported workplace sexual harassment prevalence rates higher than the national rate (33%) including:
• retail trade (42%)
• accommodation and food services (39%).
In response to these concerning results the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (the SDA), approached the Commission to conduct a comprehensive survey of its members, who are employed in these industries. The survey (2019 Member Survey) conducted earlier this year was based on the instrument and methodology adopted in the 2018 National Survey.
The SDA has long been an advocate for workplaces that are free from all forms of discrimination and harassment. With the majority of its members (60%) identifying as women, the SDA has a particular interest in addressing sexual harassment. Most recently the SDA has demonstrated leadership in developing solutions through commissioning the 2019 Member Survey and making a submission to the National Inquiry earlier this year. In October 2019, the SDA launched ‘No One Deserves a Serve’ campaign, focusing on workplace safety, a further example of SDA’s advocacy and leadership to ensuring safe workplaces.
SDA members are primarily employed in the retail, fast food, and warehouse sectors and often work in environments with direct and daily contact with customers. By publishing the results of the 2019 Member Survey, the SDA is again showing leadership by empowering not only SDA representatives and members, but also all employers and workers in the retail, fast food, and warehousing sectors with valuable information about the specific challenges and opportunities for change.
The results of the 2019 Member Survey reflect those of the 2018 National Survey, in terms of the prevalence of workplace sexual harassment, the gendered nature of these experiences and the low reporting rates. The 2019 Member Survey has allowed the Commission to provide the SDA with a comprehensive picture of the workplace sexual harassment experienced by its members, including valuable new information about the role of customers in workplace sexual harassment, both as harassers and bystanders.
This report is an important step in addressing both the systemic drivers which underpin workplace sexual harassment in the working population, as well as factors which are unique to the workplaces of SDA members. I commend the SDA for its commitment to eliminating workplace sexual harassment.
I also encourage other industries, employers and employee organisations to reflect on the discussion in this report and consider how they too can learn, collaborate and take further steps to ensure that all workplaces are free from sexual harassment.
Sex Discrimination Commissioner
The Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (the SDA) commissioned the Australian Human Rights Commission (the Commission) to conduct a National Workplace Sexual Harassment Survey of its members (2019 Member Survey), between March and April 2019.
The purpose of the 2019 Member Survey was to investigate the prevalence, nature and reporting of sexual harassment of SDA members in their workplaces and in the community more broadly. The format and methodology of the 2019 Member Survey are based on to the Commission’s National Workplace Sexual Harassment Survey, conducted in 2003, 2008, 2012 and 2018.
The 2019 Member Survey was conducted online and examined:
• the prevalence and nature of sexual harassment experienced by SDA members aged 15 years and older across their lifetime (at any time or anywhere) and in the workplace, with a particular focus on workplace sexual harassment committed by customers
• the characteristics of harassers of workplace sexual harassment
• the characteristics of workplaces where sexual harassment occurs
• the reporting of workplace sexual harassment and the outcomes of complaints
• the impacts of workplace sexual harassment on those who experience it
• the responses of people who witnessed or heard about sexual harassment in their workplaces
• the prevalence and implementation of workplace training on sexual harassment
• the prevalence and awareness of workplace sexual harassment policies and procedures
• SDA members’ awareness of where they can access information about sexual harassment.
Throughout this report the results of the 2019 Member Survey have been compared to the results of the 2018 National Survey, where a direct comparison is possible.
The data contained in this report captures what SDA members’ have said about their experiences of sexual harassment both in the workplace and, more broadly, in their lifetime. It should be noted that the 2019 Member Survey results reflect people’s experiences of sexual harassment as reported through the survey process. These experiences may not necessarily constitute a criminal offence or a breach of discrimination legislation, which can only be determined by a court.