Open letter: Respect @ Work law reform Bill does not go far enough
RLC has joined a coalition of community legal centres sending an open letter to government calling for improvements to a proposed discrimination law Bill.
The Bill is designed to implement the recommendations of the Sex Discrimination Commissioner’s Respect@Work report. The proposed laws will strengthen legal protections against workplace sexual harassment.
We are concerned that the Bill does not go far enough in a number of areas, especially in the area of costs. The risk of the court making an order that an applicant has to pay for the legal fees of the respondents in federal discrimination proceedings is a significant barrier to many applicants bringing proceedings. This is especially the case when there is a significant power and resourcing imbalance between many workers and employers. This Bill does not go far enough to break down this barrier.
We advocate for an equal access (asymmetric) costs model. In this model, applicants are better protected from cost orders, and are only liable where the claim is vexatious, lacks reasonable cause or their unreasonable conduct during proceedings has caused the respondent to incur costs. Importantly, applicants will be able to recover costs from respondents when respondents are found to have engaged in unlawful conduct.
The equal access costs model will even the scales and facilitate access to justice for applicants to bring discrimination claims through the courts.