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13 Feb 2019

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is holding a national inquiry into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces and has called for broad community submission to inform its report. 

The AMA has made a 30-page submission to this inquiry. A copy of the AMA’s submission can be found on the AMA website (link below).

The inquiry followed the AHRC’s 2018 national survey involving 10,000 respondents investigating the prevalence, nature and reporting of sexual harassment in Australian workplaces and the community more broadly. The survey report stated that close to half of sexual harassment events in past five years occurred in four key industries; one of which was the health industry.

The AMA accepts evidence that workplace sexual harassment is widespread in the health sector and supports initiatives to stop its destructive effects. Where this behaviour continues, the rights and wellbeing of individuals and the efficiency of organisations is undermined which can lead to less than optimum health care. We made known to the inquiry that these views are underpinned by AMA’s Position Statements which act as the leading voice for change to prevailing medical culture norms and community expectations.

The underlying thesis of AMA’s submission is that there is chronic under-reporting of what is a serious problem. We provided the inquiry with across jurisdiction doctor-in-training survey results (often called: Hospital Health Checks) showing the prevalence of sexual harassment and their lack of confidence in complaints being handled appropriately.

The AMA submission addressed the cultural drivers behind this wrong behaviour and the behaviour’s negative impact on the promotion of optimal patient care and worker well-being. We reflected on good existing practice, effective cultural change models operating in Australian public health and provided analysis of a broad suite of responses to the problem including: 

  • establishing measurable objectives and goals for improvement;
  • increasing professionalism in managing systems dealing with complaints;
  • enhancing knowledge and improving training;
  • promoting useful employment regulation and entitlements; and
  • improving leadership competencies and promoting diversity as these encourage people to accept legitimacy of difference which in turn norms respect in the workplace. 

The AMA submission suggested a four-step approach:

  1. REGULATION and LEADERSHIP – Applying good enforceable rules consistently and fairly combined with leaders acting as good symbols to copy / who set the right standard.
  2. VISIBILITY – Regular reporting of ‘where change is at’ and marketing of definitions, complaint processes, organisational steps to combat.
  3. LEGITIMACY – Differences arising from the diversity of style, background and/or gender become accepted; not tolerated nor resisted. Women in leadership positions are encouraged through fair recruitment. Fairness and equity are the basis for agreed rights obligations and entitlements.
  4. RESPECT – The standard is set and properly reinforced, difference is embraced and valued. Necessarily unacceptable workplace behaviours are marginalised as the culture, instead of breeding contempt, breeds respect.

The AMA Submission acknowledged the good work being done by many stakeholders within the profession and the desire of the profession to facilitate change towards best workplace practice.  Transformation to stop sexual harassment is the way to ensure the wellbeing of everyone; including patients. 

BY ANDREW LEWIS
AMA SENIOR INDUSTRIAL ADVISOR 

The AMA submission to the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces can be found at:
https://ama.com.au/submission/ama-national-inquiry-sexual-harassment-aus...

 


Published: 13 Feb 2019