Stopping gendered violence at work

– a safety issue

The solution to reducing sexual harassment should not rely on the bravery of the victim to speak out.

When we talk about occupational health and safety at work we usually think of hard hats and manual handling, but there are other kinds of workplace hazards. Gendered violence is a serious hazard that injures workers every day, IEUA VICTAS Branch Organisers Marit Clayton and Therese O’Loughlin write.

Why are we talking about gendered violence in workplaces?

In 2016 The Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC) began consulting with Victorian working women about their experience of work. This conversation became known as WRAW (Women’s Rights at Work) chat. A common theme arising was the extent to which cultures of sexism and gender inequality were impacting on women’s safety and health at work. It became clear that in many instances the treatment women were experiencing was a form of violence and that employers and WorkSafe (the Victorian workplace health and safety regulator) did not see the issue in this way. VTHC resolved to raise awareness of the issue and promote action to eliminate the violence Victorian women are experiencing at work.

What is gendered violence?

Gendered violence (GV) is any action or behaviour that makes a person feel uncomfortable, unsafe, ashamed, inferior, excluded, embarrassed or humiliated for being a woman or having a different sexuality or identity. Sexism and discrimination is the root cause of GV.

GV can be anything from a ‘blonde’ or ‘gay’ joke in the lunch room or classroom; to not being valued or respected because you are a woman or identify as gay, lesbian, transgender or queer; right through to sexual harassment and assault.

GV experienced by people working in schools can take many forms:

  • stalking
  • intimidation/bullying
  • threats
  • verbal abuse
  • ostracism or exclusion
  • rude gestures
  • offensive language and imagery
  • being undermined in your role
  • put downs, innuendo/insinuations
  • sexual suggestions or unwanted advances, and
  • sexual assault.

Gendered violence injures workers

The reason we are calling this behaviour GV is because it causes physical and psychological injuries to workers. GV doesn’t just ‘happen’ and is not ‘part of the job’. WorkSafe in Victoria has recognised GV as a serious workplace hazard and is publishing guidance material and educating employers in how to eliminate this hazard. WorkSafe has recognised the expertise of the VTHC team in this issue and they will deliver training for employers and safety reps.

GV injures workers by causing or contributing to:

  • physical and psychological injury and illness
  • feelings of isolation and exclusion
  • withdrawal and loss of confidence
  • economic hardship due to leaving the workplace to escape gendered violence
  • relationship breakdown and family disruption
  • post traumatic stress disorder, fear and anxiety, and
  • suicide.

What can we do to eliminate gendered violence in the workplace?

In Victorian workplaces, 64% of women have experienced bullying, harassment or violence in their workplace. This shocking statistic from the 2016 VTHC research, means that the current rules which are intended to protect workers who experience workplace sexual harassment, are clearly broken. The approach which has focused on individual claims and settlement processes has failed and the rules need to change to allow for systemic action against gendered violence.

In Australia and in a world first, Kate Jenkins the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, has launched a national inquiry into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces. She said the 12 month inquiry, like the #MeToo movement, would shine a light on the prevalence of women being sexually harassed and assaulted.

On 15 October, 2017, American actress Alyssa Milano posted a tweet urging women to speak up and out about their experiences with sexual assault or harassment using the phrase ‘me too’. Overnight, social media erupted as #MeToo took hold in every corner of the world; the hashtag brought attention to the violence and harassment women face in daily life and there were demands for change. The question now is how to translate an awareness of a problem into action and lasting change.

The Human Rights Commission estimates that one in three Australian women have experienced sexual harassment and assault which correlates with VTHC data. Kate Jenkins is expecting to uncover abuse across a range of industries. Currently only about 20% of women who have been sexually harassed will make a complaint. The solution to reducing sexual harassment should not rely on the bravery of the victim to speak out. The Commissioner will hand down a series of recommendations which will provide guidance for employers on how they can eliminate harassment.

Stop GV campaign in Victoria

The VTHC ‘We are Union Women’ team continues to lead the way in Victoria. As part of the Stop GV Campaign there have been two conference raising awareness and educating representatives from most unions. The most recent conference will shape the next set of actions to eliminate GV.

The VTHC also provides a range of training packages to unions including: what is GV and why it is union business, understanding the drivers of GV, why it is a health and safety issue and what it looks like for individual unions. The campaign kit, also produced by the VTHC, contains a risk assessment tool and a model GV enterprise bargaining clause.

The IEUA VIC TAS Branch knows that GV is an issue for some of our members. We have started to engage members in WRAW chats to understand more fully the experiences of our women members and we are working with schools to create and implement plans for change. While unions are well supported by the VTHC, it is incumbent on each union to produce materials and resources that will best support our membership. Under the auspices of Occupational Health and Safety, we have developed an IEU Stop Gendered Violence @ Work Webinar. This is an introductory seminar which assists in understanding why GV is a health and safety issue and includes a step by step action plan for workplaces to use.


VTHC Stop Gendered Violence at Work Report (2016)

VTHC Stop Gendered Violence at Work Campaign Kit (2017)

If you or someone you work with is experiencing gendered violence at work you can contact:

The IEU branch in your state


1800 737 732

The Human Rights Commission in your state.