Public servants wanting to give evidence to the national workplace sexual harassment inquiry are being gagged by non-disclosure agreements.
The Secretaries Board is insisting employees apply for a waiver if a non-disclosure agreement applies to their sexual harassment matter.
The Board imposed the process against the advice of the Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins.
Harder for public servants to give evidence
Ms Jenkins launched the inquiry into workplace harassment following a survey by the Australian Human Rights Commission.
The survey found 23 percent of women had experienced workplace sexual harassment within the previous 12 months.
Furthermore, 40 percent of women reported experiencing sexual harassment in the previous five years.
Public servants need waiver
Public servants wanting to give evidence must first contact the Australian Public Service Commission’s Ethics Advisory Service.
The service will then contact the agency involved in the incident, and seek a waiver of the non-disclosure agreement.
Ms Jenkins criticised the process, noting it may re-traumatise victims of sexual harassment.
Ms Jenkins previously wrote to 120 CEOs asking them to allow employees who had signed non-disclosure agreements to give evidence.
Only 18 companies responded, including Rio Tinto, ANZ, the Commonwealth Bank and the Australian National University.
Queensland and NSW public servants free to give evidence
Queensland and also New South Wales public servants have waivers which allow them to give evidence.
They don’t have to first seek permission from the relevant agency or another public service body.
It’s unknown if the Secretaries Board, which is led by Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Martin Parkinson, spoke with Ms Jenkins about their plan.
“I asked employers to issue a limited waiver to allow people to make confidential submissions to the National Inquiry,” Ms Jenkins said.
“Some employers contacted us with questions and, when they did, we answered them. Those who have agreed to the waiver are listed on our website.
“The ability to make a confidential submission is paramount to the integrity of our consultation process. Requiring individuals to seek consent potentially jeopardises that confidentiality, and, as a result, may risk re-traumatising of victims of sexual harassment.”
Workers must be free to give evidence
Miles Heffernan from Sexual Harassment Claims said all workers must be free to give evidence, regardless of non-disclosure agreements.
“If this national inquiry is to be successful, then people need to be free to tell their stories in an open and frank manner,” he said.
“It’s not about naming and shaming. Rather, it’s about understanding the very serious issue of workplace sexual harassment so we can hopefully come up with solutions to stop it from happening in the future.”
The deadline for submissions to the inquiry has been extended as a result of the non-disclosure agreement difficulties.
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