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High Levels of Workplace Harassment Persist in Australia but Advocates Believe Progress Is Near


FILE - Thousands of people with placards and banners rally demanding justice for women in Sydney, Monday, March 15, 2021, as the government reeled from two separate allegations. The rally was one of several across Australia.

The Australian Human Rights Commission said Thursday that levels of sexual harassment in Australia haven't changed markedly since 2018. However, it said in its latest research into sexual harassment that the country is at a "turning point" because of its new powers and legal reforms.

The new report, Time for respect: the fifth national survey on sexual harassment in Australian workplaces, was compiled by the Australian Human Rights Commission, an independent body established by the Federal Parliament. It has a president and seven commissioners, responsible for such areas as Aboriginal justice, children and age discrimination.

Its survey has shown that one-third of Australian employees have experienced sexual harassment at work.

The commission has said similar findings were reported in its last survey in 2018, so little appears to have changed. Kate Jenkins, Australia's sex discrimination commissioner, has said she still has cause for optimism.

In September, the Anti-Discrimination and Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Respect at Work) Bill 2022 was introduced into Parliament in Canberra. It requires employers to bring in measures to prevent sexual harassment, sex discrimination and victimization. It also gives the Human Rights Commission new powers to monitor compliance with the new laws and to investigate allegations of "systemic unlawful discrimination" at work. The amended legislation aims to "eliminate, so far as is possible, discrimination involving workplace environments that are hostile on the ground of sex."

Jenkins told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. Thursday that she is anticipating more pronounced progress in the year ahead and that "all the structures are now in place." She said, "So, while we still are outraged, we have now got the resources, the tools and actually the change in attitude that I absolutely expect in four years that we should see an improvement in results."

The Human Rights Commission's latest survey has found that only a small number of victims report harassment at work.

The research surveyed more than 10,000 people. It asserted that "sexual harassment continues to be an unacceptably common feature of Australian workplaces."

However, Jenkins believes Australia is at a "turning point."

In March 2021, a national day of action was prompted by allegations that Federal Parliament was contaminated by misogyny and sexism.

Marchers were inspired by the #MeToo movement in the United States. They said they were also taking a stand against sexism in broader Australian society.

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