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Charities Call to Protect Volunteers Against Sexual Harassment

26 November 2018 at 4:51 pm
Luke Michael
Charities are campaigning to fix gaps in Australian workplace laws that are leaving volunteers vulnerable to sexual harassment.

Luke Michael | 26 November 2018 at 4:51 pm


Charities Call to Protect Volunteers Against Sexual Harassment
26 November 2018 at 4:51 pm

Charities are campaigning to fix gaps in Australian workplace laws that are leaving volunteers vulnerable to sexual harassment.

Justice Connect and Volunteering Australia are collating a joint submission to the National Inquiry into Workplace Sexual Harassment, calling to improve the legal protection for volunteers in the workplace.

While employees are given explicit protection from sexual harassment under equal opportunity laws in all states and territories and the Commonwealth, this is not the case for volunteers.

In some jurisdictions – like Western Australia, Northern Territory and the Commonwealth – there are no laws to handle sexual harassment of volunteers.

Mae Tanner, the manager of training at Not-for-profit Law, said in a post #metoo environment, Australia needed to do better at making sure everyone in the workplace felt safe.

She said volunteers and unpaid workers deserved the same legal protection as employees from sexual harassment in the workplace.

“Why should whether or not you earn a wage for your work determine whether you get protection from sexual harassment?” Tanner told Pro Bono News.

“Our state and federal governments need to make this a priority. The laws should be changed so that volunteers have full protection from sexual harassment, wherever they are volunteering.”

Advocates have warned that without a clear legal duty for workplaces to prevent the sexual harassment of volunteers, organisations had less impetus to implement policies and procedures to protect unpaid staff.

Volunteering Australia Policy Manager Lavanya Kala told Pro Bono News she wanted volunteers and other types of unpaid workers to be given full protection from sexual harassment in all Commonwealth and state and territory laws.

She said volunteers were currently vulnerable to sexual harassment as they did not know where to access help.  

“When they have an issue and want to find avenues for complaint, volunteers don’t really have clear and consistent mechanisms to turn to,” Kala said.

“This is problematic, and apart from undertaking workplace mediation or filing a police complaint, generally in these scenarios volunteers will leave their role and not volunteer again.”

Volunteering Australia is conducting a survey on volunteering and sexual harassment in the workplace.

Kala said this addressed in a gap in the Australian Human Rights Commission’s recent sexual harassment in the workplace survey – which did not identify volunteers as a clear group because they were not employees.

“This is an issue because volunteers do comprise such a large proportion of the workforce,” she said.

This made it very difficult to identify how many volunteers have actually experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, Kala added.

“Anecdotally, we are aware that this is happening, but we think it’s really important we conduct this survey and give volunteers the opportunity to have their voices heard,” she said.

The survey will close on Wednesday 12 December.

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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