Stronger laws to protect workers from discrimination and harassment

Published Friday, 14 June, 2024 at 05:04 PM


Minister for Health, Mental Health and Ambulance Services and Minister for Women
The Honourable Shannon Fentiman

Attorney-General and Minister for Justice and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence
The Honourable Yvette D'Ath

  • New laws have been introduced to Parliament, setting in stone enhanced protections for Queensland workers from discrimination, vilification, sexual harassment, victimisation and other unlawful behaviours
  • The Respect at Work and Other Matters Bill will protect Queensland workers against sex-based discrimination and harassment
  • The legislation will also make a change that means assaults in the workplace will be an aggravated sentencing factor for judges to consider when sentencing an offender

The Miles Government has introduced landmark legislation which will ensure Queensland workers will be safer than ever at work.

Building on the historic Respect@Work Report and Queensland’s Plan for the Primary Prevention of Violence Against Women, the Respect at Work and Other Matters Bill will protect all workers - especially women in Queensland – from harm and harassment in the workplace.

National evidence shows female workers are more likely to be subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace:

  • 89% experiencing sexual harassment at some point in their lifetime
  • while 77% of all workers have been sexually harassed in their lifetime

Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins in the Respect@Work: National Inquiry Report said sexual harassment was a societal issue that impacted productivity.  The Jenkins report also made clear that harassment in the workplace is not inevitable and is preventable.

The Bill will include:

  • new prohibitions of harassment on the basis of sex
  • a prohibition on subjecting another person to a work environment that is hostile on the ground of sex; and
  • a positive duty on all employers to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment and other conduct that is unlawful under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991.

It sends a clear and unequivocal message to workers and employers in Queensland that sexual harassment in the workplace is never acceptable.

Workers will also be protected from violent interactions with customers, thanks to strong amendments to the Penalties and Sentences Act.  If passed, a person being sentenced for an assault committed against a person in the workplace will be subject to an aggravated sentencing factor.

The Bill also incorporates the first stage of reforms coming out of the Building Belonging Report and Inquiry into Serious Vilification and Hate Crimes Committee Report.

Importantly this includes updating and expanding the list of protected attributes for both criminal and civil vilification to include sex, age, and impairment in addition to the existing attributes of race, religion, sexuality (renamed sexual orientation), gender identity and sex characteristics.

These proposed updates to Queensland’s Anti-Discrimination Act will reflect Queensland’s views that discrimination is unacceptable and has no place in 2024.

The Bill will also ensure that discrimination can no longer occur on the basis of attributes such as someone’s physical appearance, irrelevant medical record, irrelevant criminal record, homelessness or that they have been subject to domestic or family violence.

Amendments reflecting the key vilification reports will expand the range of protections to include matters such as age, disability and medical status and will help protect particularly vulnerable members of the community.

The regular parliamentary consultation process will now begin. These are complex issues and many in the community have differing opinions.

It is essential that we get these legislative reforms right.

Quotes attributable to the Attorney-General and Minister for Justice and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence, Yvette D’Ath:

“All Queenslanders have the right to feel safe from unlawful conduct including discrimination, sexual harassment, vilification and victimisation.

“These types of behaviour have devastating effects on the health and wellbeing of people.

“But what is often overlooked is discriminatory behaviour in the workplace impacts productivity.

“These laws don’t just protect workers, they also benefit workplaces, as employees will be able to feel safe, valued and supported, meaning they can work to their potential.

“Workers, for example those wo work in the retail and fast food industries, will also be given extra protection from customers who physically assault them, due to amendments to the Penalties and Sentences Act.

“But let’s be clear – no Queenslander should think it’s okay to use a worker as a punching bag simply because they don’t like what they are being told.

“Workers are human beings and deserve to have their rights protected under the law and like all people, deserve to be treated with respect by the public.”

Quotes attributable to Minister for Women, Shannon Fentiman:

“It’s concerning to hear that nearly every woman has reported experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace at some point in their lifetime.

“Everyone deserves to feel safe when heading to work and these new laws will ensure workers are protected.

“Harassment in the workplace is never acceptable and I’m proud to be part of a government that is taking action.”

Quotes attributable to Jacqueline King, General Secretary, Queensland Council of Unions:

“The QCU welcome the introduction of this Bill as a historic step forward for Queensland workers, providing great protections for working people against harmful discrimination, in particular women, young people, queer people, First Nations people and others most at risk from sexual or sex-based harassment.

“Importantly, the Bill includes a number of new protected attributes, including one which will prevent the disclosure of irrelevant medical records for all Queenslander workers. This vital measure will ensure Queensland workers are protected from forced disclosure of their entire personal medical history when applying for jobs if they are not relevant to that job, reversing a widespread practice among industries such as mining, maritime and manufacturing where workers are required to disclose personal medical records to secure a job interview, regardless of their relevance for the job at hand.

“We look forward to working with the Government to achieve further reforms to protect school staff in faith-based schools from active discrimination on a range of protected attributes including staff who are in de facto relationships, undertaking IVF treatment or who are LGBTIQ.”

Quotes attributable to the SDA Queensland Branch Secretary, Justin Power:

“The SDA Queensland Branch congratulates the Miles Government on its proposed amendments to Section 9 of the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992.

“The SDA has continually campaigned against customer violence and for increased penalties for offenders.  With customer abuse and violence on the rise, retail and fast food employees throughout the country continue to endure physical violence and assaults in their workplaces.

“The Miles Government’s proposed amendments to section 9 will increase the consequences for those customers who physically assault our members and importantly, act as a deterrent from those assaults occurring in the first place.

Quotes attributable to the President of Queensland African Communities, Beny Bol OAM:

“The positive duty provision in these laws will mean stronger workforce diversity, full and equal participation of all Queenslanders regardless of their backgrounds, an opportunity to address wicked structural systemic discrimination at work and stronger multiculturalism.”

Further information:

The Miles Government remains committed to implementing recommendations made in the Building Belonging Report, with a second stage of reforms to occur following further consultation.

It is important that these further reforms consider the approach the Commonwealth takes following the release of the Australia Law Reform Commission report into Religious Educational Institutions and Anti-Discrimination Laws.

The Bill builds on campaigns such as “No One Deserves a Serve”, which shone a light on the abusive and violent behaviour the vast majority of retail and fast food workers have experienced at least once while simply doing their job.

Employers and specific organisations will have a duty to proactively take reasonable measures to eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment, vilification and victimisation from their workplaces.