The Australian Retailers Association (ARA) has signalled strong support for the Federal Respect@Work legislative package to eliminate workplace harassment, but called for greater support to implement the changes, particularly for small businesses.
The full ARA submission to the Federal parliamentary inquiry into Respect@Work is published here.
ARA CEO Paul Zahra said gender equality, sexual discrimination and gender-based discrimination are critically important issues for retail, as the largest private sector employer with one of the most diverse workforces in Australia.
“We welcome the Albanese government’s legislative response to the 2020 Respect@Work Report, which provides the framework for transparency around the progress Australian workplaces are making in eliminating sexual harassment. With women making up two-thirds of the retail workforce, and one of the most affected workplace cohorts, this is an incredibly important issue for our sector,” Mr Zahra said.
“Reporting will be critical to the success of this measure, and we are conscious of the additional resourcing this will require. The application of positive duty embedded in the legislation places onus on employers to update procedures and requires ongoing resourcing for the reporting and support programs that arise from the Bill’s implementation.
“While many of our larger members are already discharging this positive duty voluntarily, small and medium sized businesses will require some support to prepare for and implement the legislation. Smaller businesses face the same challenges as larger enterprises when it comes to preventing and responding to sexual harassment, but they are more challenged when it comes to allocating resources to respond appropriately.
“These smaller retailers are already struggling to resource day to day operational needs, meaning they will need support structures and ready-to-use resources on what is expected of them and the steps they can take in the short and medium term to implement those changes,” Mr Zahra said.
This assessment is borne out by responses to a recent ARA member survey confirming that retailers are taking steps to improve their approach of harassment in the workplace, with two thirds of respondents having clear reporting mechanisms in place for sexual harassment complaints.
“Retailers are already looking to combat the scourge of harassment, with over 60% of respondents reporting that they had policies in place to support respectful behaviour in the workplace alongside active training modules,” Mr Zahra said.
“On the other hand, over 70% of respondents to our survey stated they wanted guidelines, information and resources they could apply to their business and implement straight away. Retailers have a strong appetite to do what’s needed to create workplaces that are safe and where everyone can thrive, but they also need the resources to make it happen.
“This Bill marks an important step towards building the supportive workplaces that employers and employees want, but without appropriate support measures in place to ensure every business can implement and maintain such positive changes, any potential progress will be put at risk,” Mr Zahra said.
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About us: The Australian Retailers Association (ARA) is the oldest, largest and most diverse national retail body, representing a $400 billion sector that employs 1.3 million Australians and is the largest private sector employer in the country. As Australia’s peak retail body, representing more than 120,000 retail shop fronts and online stores, the ARA informs, advocates, educates, protects and unifies our independent, national and international retail community. To learn more about ARA’s exclusive member benefits and more, visit retail.org.au