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New push to end workplace sex harassment

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The scourge of sexual harassment in Australian workplaces is being tackled head-on, with more than 100 organisations pushing a new plan to stamp out the behaviour.

Unions, researchers, peak bodies, health professionals and lawyers are among those to sign up to the initiative.

They're calling on federal and state governments to implement a five-point plan, headlined by calls for an overhaul of the complaints process.

It comes in response to alarming rates of sexual harassment in Australia, particularly for women, with 85 per cent having experienced it.

Australian Council of Trade Unions president Michele O'Neil said the current complaints process was failing people sexually harassed at work.

"It puts people in a position where taking action means launching a court case as an individual against a corporate respondent," she told AAP.

"This is expensive and protracted, it's invasive and it often means re-victimising a person who has experienced sexual harassment."

The ACTU is pushing for harassment to be brought under the Fair Work Act, allowing people to pursue complaints through the workplace umpire.

The plan is also focused on prevention efforts aimed at addressing the drivers of harassment.

It includes stronger legal duties for employers to take proactive steps to prevent harassment, creating more accessible reporting tools and ensuring advocacy is available.

Ms O'Neil knows first-hand what it's like to be sexually harassed at work, having encountered it at 14 while working in her first job as a waitress.

"My supervisor would systematically push me into the storeroom and cool room and try and touch and kiss me," she said.

"I was young and in my first job and it was difficult to talk about."

After the older women she worked with got a union delegate involved, the behaviour was stopped and the supervisor disciplined.

Ms O'Neil first revealed the incident when elected ACTU president in July, in a bid to help others.

"I wanted people who are being harassed to know that they're not alone and what's being done to them is not okay, and that it can be stopped," she said.

© AAP 2019

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