Full text: St Joseph the Worker Pastoral Message 2023
Last year, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference issued its Social Justice Statement titled Respect: Confronting Violence and Abuse. It focussed on the important issue of domestic violence against women and children.
In that Statement, we Bishops acknowledged how devastating violence is, wherever it happens.
Violence in society is not limited to the home. It is a daily reality across society including in workplaces.
This year’s Message for the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker focusses on one of the most widespread forms of violence in the workplace – sexual harassment.
The Australian Human Rights Commission has conducted a number of surveys on the national experience of sexual harassment in workplaces. The findings of the survey are eye-opening and deeply concerning.
Some of the key findings of the most recent survey are:
• One in three people have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the previous five years;
• Almost 40% of women experienced sexual harassment;
• Just over a quarter of men experienced sexual harassment;
• Over half of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers surveyed reported that they had been sexually harassed.
• Just under 80% of perpetrators are men.
The Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, undertook an inquiry into workplace sexual harassment in Australia and she produced a significant report called Respect@Work in 2020.
The report provided a stark picture of the nature and extent of workplace sexual harassment. It explored the underlying causes and made 55 recommendations for reform.
Importantly, the report calls for a shift from a reactive approach in which action is taken by employers in response to complaints by employees to a proactive approach in which employers have a positive responsibility to take action to prevent sexual harassment from happening.
The Federal Government responded to this report with a new law, the Anti-Discrimination and Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Respect at Work) Act 2022, which has come into force this year.
The Church needs to play its part in addressing the problem of sexual harassment within its own workforce. We are one of Australia’s largest employers with workers in schools, hospitals, aged care facilities and many agencies. Sadly, sexual harassment is a reality within Catholic workplaces too.
We in the Church need to not only comply with the law’s new requirements, but we must embrace them with enthusiasm and commitment.
If we are to be faithful to the teaching of Christ, we need to do everything we can to ensure that Catholic workplaces are characterised by respect and freedom, by mutual esteem and kindness, not by coercion, control and domination.
The Respect@Work report found that cultural shifts are needed to stop sexual harassment in the workplace and highlighted the importance of challenging gender stereotypes and promoting gender equality. This includes promoting diverse leadership and ensuring that workplace policies and practices are inclusive and free from gender bias.
The report highlights the importance of education and training for both employers and employees to ensure that everyone understands their rights and responsibilities regarding sexual harassment.
Thousands of Catholic women were surveyed on their feelings about the Church in a study conducted by the University of Newcastle. The survey report was presented to the Vatican as part of the preparation for the upcoming Synod on Synodality. Many spoke about their experience of sexual harassment in the Church.
One young British teacher said of her harassment in a Catholic school:
It broke my spirit and I ended up ill and unemployed.
That young woman’s experience is not isolated either in society or the Church. We simply cannot tolerate the behaviour which caused such dreadful outcomes. We must act now to end it! The new laws will make a difference.
Employers have been given 12 months to acquaint themselves with the new laws. Despite the transition period, Commissioner Jenkins urged workplaces to implement change now, so that people may enjoy safer workplaces, free from sexual harassment, sooner.
A number of resources are already available on the Respect@Work website to support employers to take action to more effectively prevent, and respond to, workplace sexual harassment.
We encourage both employees and employers in the Church and in the wider community to use these and other resources to learn more about their rights and responsibilities under the new law. Various organisations provide training on the new laws as well.
Safe workplaces, free from sexual harassment, are achievable. All of us need to play our part in stamping out this unacceptable workplace behaviour. We need to put an end to the devastation it has caused in the lives of so many.
Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM (Conv)
Chair, Bishops Commission for Social Justice, Mission and Service
Bishop of Parramatta
Chair, Management Committee
Basic Rights Queensland