5 Feb 2018

Govt to collect workplace sexual misconduct data

6:50 pm on 5 February 2018

Information about sexual misconduct in the workplace will be collected by the government for the first time but some employers say there is no guarantee it will help victims.

#MeToo poster in London. The movement to demonstrate the prevalence of sexual harassment has gone worldwide.

#MeToo poster in London. The movement to demonstrate the prevalence of sexual harassment has gone worldwide. Photo: duncan c/Flickr

The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment currently collects data on harassment or bullying, but not on sexual harassment specifically.

That will change in July and it said the information gathered would be confidential with all identifying features removed from incidents reported to them.

Minister for Women Julie Anne Genter said she asked the ministry to start keeping records to understand the scale of the problem.

She was moved by the #MeToo campaign last year, which saw hundreds of thousands of people around the world come forward with their stories of sexual abuse.

"I've been incredibly inspired by the bravery and courage of all those who shared their stories in the MeToo campaign, which has now grown into the Time's Up [campaign]," she said.

"But also my own parliamentary colleagues, speaking out last term about their experience."

HELP Auckland, an organisation for those who have suffered from sexual abuse, said the move was a step in the right direction.

Executive director Kathryn McPhillips said mediation has traditionally been used to solve sexual misconduct at work, but that had its problems.

"Whether they have institutional power because they're a team leader with a person [who] has a lower rank in the organisation or ... they've just been there for longer, whatever gives the person doing the harassing more power - when you put that person in mediation then that power can continue ... you don't really get a true mediation," she said.

But the Employers and Manufacturers Association was unsure about how much good gathering data would do.

Its chief executive Kim Campbell said in order to truly solve sexual harassment in the workplace there needed to be a culture change.

"What we need in society, our norms, it's just like teaching our kids good manners ... really we need to think about ... how we all behave towards each other and I think a more useful emphasis might be there," he said.

But the Human Rights Commission said employers needed to be part of the change.

Its Equal Opportunities Commissioner Jackie Blue said it was important that businesses did their part.

"Employers should not be waiting for July, they should actually be looking now to see that they've got a sexual harassment policy, that it's accessible, it's clear and that their employees know about it," she said.

Ms Genter said she had asked officials for advice on what steps the government could take after the data was put together.

She said she wants to engage with employers, women and people in the community to stop sexual misconduct in the workplace.

MBIE said it would continue to work with the Human Rights Commission and with community organisations who help people who make those types of complaints.

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