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Woman at Work

Melissa Donnelly

The experience of women at work has been at the forefront of national politics this year.

These issues were thrust into the national spotlight with revelation after revelation about workplace conduct in Parliament House.

This conversation may have started in Parliament House, but women in every workplace and every home around the nation know the same fear.

At the very heart of who we are in the Labor Party and the values we stand for are workers’ rights, and human rights, and the rights we as women have to safely and equally participate in our society.

Yet our nation is failing women and girls, and our government is too busy talking to take any action.

Around the country today, far too often women go to work, go about their everyday lives facing the risk of sexual harassment and sexual abuse, from people they know and people they don’t.

And at every step, the Morrison Government has proved entirely unequal to the task of keeping women safe.

Whether it was sitting on the Respect at Work Report for over a year, or ignoring calls for sexual harassment policy for their own staff. This government only has something to say about women’s safety when it is a perceived political issue.

CPSU members working in Parliament House have been at the epicentre of the current revelations and debate, where instances of sexual harassment and sexual assault unreported and unpunished have too often gone unreported and unpunished.

Yet we have a Prime Minister who can only relate as a father or a husband, who sees women only in reference to himself, and sees the pervasive problem of violence and harassment and assault of women as a problem to be politically managed.

After years of parliamentary workers calling for recognition and change, it was only after marches and sustained anger from women right across the nation, that the Morrison Government was forced to commit to implementing the Respect at Work report and a wholesale review of parliamentary workplaces.

But the Morrison Government demonstrated once again its capacity to disappoint.

The Prime Minister held a press conference where he smiled and said that his government accepted the report of Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins – and then passed, with the support of One Nation, legislation that ignored the most important reforms.

The legislation failed to:

  • Expressly prohibit sexual harassment;

  • Put a positive duty on employers to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace;

  • Introduce a quick and easy complaints process in the Fair Work Act; and

  • Broaden the powers of the Sex Discrimination Commissioner to instigate inquiries.

In addition, both the Government and One Nation voted down an amendment to include 10 days’ paid Family and Domestic Violence leave in the National Employment Standards.

It is difficult to understand why the Morrison Government was not prepared to accept these practical recommendations. And since the Morrison Government did not have the vison to do so, can workers really expect them to have the courage to reform its own workplace? To have those hard conversations with their parliamentary colleagues about behaviour that is no longer and should never have been acceptable? To lead by example?

We’ve already seen political posturing from all the likely contenders, with Senator Gerard Rennick loudly proclaiming he will not participate in the measly hour-long training on workplace sexual harassment.

It seems this Prime Minister can’t or won’t even make his own party room members pretend to take these issues seriously.

And as the nation looked towards the Women’s Safety Summit, so many had been hopeful that this will be the moment. But the round tables and summit left advocates and sectors that deal with women’s safety every day confused and unsatisfied. And the government refused invitations to any representation from unions, or workplace organisations.

We continue to be hopeful and continue to represent members’ voices, and their right to safe workplaces. But we know the Prime Minister will not say what he means or do what he says.

Respect and safety at work are nonnegotiable. Our members across all departments, and especially those that work in parliament have had enough, and they are demanding action for safe workplaces. Women are sceptical, about Scott Morrison’s motives, and his commitment to change. And we know that, regardless of what women deserve, what women demand, and what the times call for, that this Government is not up to the job.

Our Party must offer a better way forward:

  • one that endorses that all workers’ rights to be safe at work,

  • a government that leads by example and is a model employer,

  • that legislates domestic violence leave,

  • that takes issues of workplace harassment and assault seriously with a proper approach to investigation and reporting, and

  • one that resources the sectors that fight to keep women safe.

Women deserve a better government, and that’s why we need to see an Albanese Labor Government. But in the meantime, our members will never stop advocating for safety at work. It’s the very least that all women, in all workplaces, deserve.

Melissa Donnelly is the CPSU National Secretary.


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