Has the advertising industry prepared for the Respect at Work legislation?

Positive Duty Act. Source - Australian Human Rights Commission

“The only thing that prevents sexual harassment and bullying is a company culture.”

Australia’s peak industry bodies, the Advertising Council Australia (ACA) and Media Federation of Australia (MFA), believe the industry is “well informed” to manage this week’s change to the Respect at Work Act. 

The legislation came into effect this week (12 December 2023), placing a “positive duty” on employers and businesses to take “reasonable and proportionate measures” to eliminate sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

The change in legislation means employers and businesses now hold the legal responsibility for preventing “unlawful conduct”, which is defined as “sexual harassment, sex-based harassment, sex discrimination, hostile work environments and victimisation.”

Both the ACA and MFA told Mediaweek that agencies had been kept informed since the changes were first announced, with both organisations continuing to focus on initiatives to address the issues. 

Hannah Sturrock, national head of engagement at the Advertising Council Australia (ACA), said, “The fact is, the only thing that prevents sexual harassment and bullying is a company culture that simply doesn’t tolerate it. The most effective interventions involve visible and committed senior leaders who set the tone for cultural change.”

Hannah Sturrock Advertising Council Australia

Hannah Sturrock – National Head of Engagement, Advertising Council Australia

For the past 18 months, the ACA has been promoting the creation of safe, inclusive, respectful workplaces through their governance frameworks. The first step in their Create Space Action Plan addresses measure to tackle sexual harassment and victimisation.

The Media Federation of Australia (MFA)’s Industry Psychosocial Safety Action Plan is also designed to equip agencies to meet their obligations and proactively protect their people from potential workplace harms.  

MFA’s chief executive officer, Sophie Madden, said, “The MFA set out to ensure our members are well-informed about their responsibilities and the implications of the new regulations.

“The MFA is committed to creating safe, respectful and inclusive workplaces, and therefore welcomes any steps to prevent sexual harassment and other potential workplace harms from occurring.”

Sophie Madden - Chief Executive Officer, Media Federation of Australia

Sophie Madden – Chief Executive Officer, Media Federation of Australia

The positive duty legislation is part of The Anti-Discrimination and Human Rights Legislation (Respect at Work) Bill, which was an amendment to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984. The Respect at Work Bill was passed by government in late November 2022, in response to reportedly persistent and confronting statistics of the workplace in Australia.

A national survey by the AHRC in 2022 found that sexual harassment continues to be an “unacceptably common feature of Australian workplaceswith a third of workers found to be victims of workplace sexual harassment in the last five years. 

The survey also revealed only 18 percent of incidents are reported, half of these incidents are repeated, with many ongoing for more than a year, and only a third of Australian workers believe their organisation is doing enough.

The AHRC have released Guidelines that will be used by the Commission to assess compliance. The commission will have powers to enforce compliance. 

See also: MFA unveils Industry Psychosocial Safety action plan and education programs expansion at AGM

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