Safe and respectful workplaces – there is a fix!

It starts with you. Call it out. #stopgenderedviolence

Safe and respectful workplaces are those where you work free and protected from any form of violence. Gendered violence (GV) in particular is a bigger problem in Australian workplaces than many of us realise. The reason for that is employees do not always categorise particular behaviours as forms of violence, let alone, gendered violence.

But according to Victorian Trades Hall Council, gendered violence involves “any behaviour, actions, systems or structure that causes physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm to a worker because of their sex, gender, sexual orientation or because they do not adhere to dominant gender stereotypes or socially prescribed gender roles”

Gendered violence includes: violence experienced by women because they are women; violence experienced by persons because they identify as LGBTQI; violence experienced by a person because they don’t conform to socially prescribed gender roles or dominant definitions of masculinity or femininity, or because they witness sexual or gendered violence, directed at someone else, such as a co-worker.

Examples of gendered violence and sexual harassment include (but are not limited to) behaviours and actions such as

  • stalking
  • intimidation or threats
  • verbal abuse
  • ostracism or exclusion
  • rude gestures
  • offensive language
  • put downs
  • innuendos or insinuations
  • being undermined in your role or position
  • sexual harassment
  • sexual assault and rape.

The impact of such behaviours can’t be underestimated. An employee can feel or experience:

  • embarrassed, wanting to withdraw or lose confidence
  • unsafe or uncomfortable and feel isolated and excluded.
  • physically injured or ill, including mental illness, undue stress, anxiety, fear or post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • economic hardship for a range of reasons, including sexist attitudes leading to a lack of career progression, unfair classifications, being kept part-time or casual, or
  • leaving a workplace to be free of gendered violence. relationship breakdown and family disruption.

Many women workers especially given they are the largest group of victims can relate to at least one of these.

But since GV affects such a large cohort of workers, it is a system of attitudes that creates risks for particular workers. It is an unsafe system of work and is an occupational health and safety (OHS) risk.

Unions already have the tools to address OHS issues. OHS laws differ from state to state, but generally require employers to provide a safe workplace, free from hazards.

Your union membership and chapter solidarity are the place to tackle the problem. This is where your union Chapter membership and solidarity can make a big difference in tackling the problem and reshaping workplace cultures that may and can breed gendered violence.

Cultures of sexism and gender inequality (inside and outside of work), reinforce norms and behaviours that accept and trivialise the violence that women and other employees experience. Your union chapter with the assistance of your school’s organiser can effectively challenge and reshape toxic cultures that breed gendered violence. Unsafe work systems are fixable. Here’s how:

Be a ‘STARRR’ in your workplace!

Situation – identify and assess the actions, systems or structure that are present in your workplace which may be facilitating the occurrences of gendered violence, identify employees who are affected, how often, the types of GV, and discuss the responses to it.

Task – examine what you need to do to address the situation with your colleagues, Rep and Chapter, who will help you address it?

Actions – outline the steps will you need to take eg consultation, chapter meeting, motion

Results – assess what your actions have achieved, how have they been implemented?

Review – the process and results

Revisit – the situation.

Don’t forget that this is an international problem. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) passed Convention 190 and the associated Recommendation 260 to eliminate violence and harassment at work. The Australian Government voted in favour of the Convention. But unfortunately, until it is ratified, breaches in workplaces are not in violation of the Convention or any related federal legislation.

But we don’t just wait for that. Unions and lobby groups are already calling on the Morrison government to ratify this convention and will continue to rely on the existing legislations such as the Sex Discrimination Act, and relevant state WHS frameworks to tackle the problem.

We must start now at a local level and use all the tools we have to overcome this epidemic, one school at a time.

It starts with you.
Call it out.

Lubna Haddad, Valerie Jones