With a commitment to advocate for, and support women in the regions, the Rural, Regional, Remote Women’s Network of Western Australia (RRR Network) has developed a plan to help employers manage sexual harassment claims in a way that reduces trauma for complainants, reduces costs and reputational damage for employers, and works constructively with the person who is the subject of the complaint. The RRR Network knows that employers find dealing with claims challenging, particularly as the definition of sexual harassment under Sex Discrimination Act can range from hurtful, embarrassing and offensive comments, right up to sexual assault. RRR Network CEO Jackie Jarvis said “We know that a one-size-fits-all approach does not work, and whilst all sexual harassment in the workplace is unlawful, most cases are not criminal matters. People impacted by sexual harassment have told us they are seeking three things – an acknowledgement that it happened, an apology, and an assurance that it will not happen again; to them or to anyone else” At the recent #USTOO lunch event held in Perth, journalist Tracey Spicer AM and Broome agribusiness professional Catherine Marriott both gave frank accounts of their experience of sexual harassment. Dr Skye Saunders from the Australian National University then provided some alarming figures from her research into rural workplaces which showed 73 per cent of employees surveyed said they had been sexually harassed at work. In the agricultural industry, 93 per cent of women interviewed said they had been harassed. As a result, the RRR Network is now considering funding options to train a panel of independent mediators who can step into an organisation as soon as a complaint is made to support the complainant; work with the organisation; and also work constructively with the person who is the subject of the complaint. When this type of independent mediation is used in Workers Compensation matters, around 80% of cases are settled within 90 days. The Productivity Commission has found that finalising these matters through the courts typically takes 4 and half years. The RRR Network knows that the current formalised processes used by many companies managing sexual harassment claims are often time-consuming and costly. There is also a very real, often unmeasured impact on staff morale, productivity and organisational culture. Both the complainant and the subject of the complaint may take extended sick or stress leave – or may simple leave the organisation, increasing the costs of recruitment and training. The RRR Network’s plan to provide independent mediation services in sexual harassment and workplace bullying matters will offer a low cost, informal, timely and effective way to deal with the complaints across WA – in a way alleviates further trauma for all involved.
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