Victoria's New Gender Equality Act

Tuesday 3 March 2020 @ 11.33 a.m. | Legal Research

The Gender Equality Act 2020 (Vic) was assented to on 25 February 2020.  The Act was originally released as a draft Bill by the Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet on 21 August 2018 for public consultation. On 26 November 2019, the Bill was introduced to the Victorian Legislative Assembly by the Minister for Women Gabrielle Williams. The Bill passed both houses of Parliament, with some amendments, on 20 February 2020. The Act is yet to commence.

 The Act aims to push proactive progress towards gender equality within the public sector. In addressing and working towards gender equality, the Victorian government seeks to improve a number of social and economic issues. The Act will require organisations to take positive action towards achieving workplace gender equality, and to promote gender equality in their policies, programs, and services. The Act will also establish the Public Sector Gender Equality Commissioner (“the Commissioner”).

The Act sets out a series of gender equality principles, which all Victorian public sector entities are to recognise and reflect in their organisations. These principles acknowledge that gender equality is a human right, and is something to benefit everyone regardless of gender.

Who Will The Act Apply To?

The Act will apply to select organisations that have a minimum of 50 employees, and which are also:

  • a public service body,
  • a public entity,
  • a special body,
  • a Council,
  • the Court Services Victoria,
  • a university, as per the meaning of the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 (Vic), or
  • the Office of Public Prosecutions.

These organisations are known as defined entities, under section 5 of the Act. By setting a minimum of 50 employees, the Act aims to strike a balance between encouraging organisational change, and ensuring an achievable reporting burden for smaller companies. It is estimated that around 300 organisations will fall under this definition of defined entities. Additionally, regulations made under the Act will also have the power to prescribe or exempt an organisation at any time.

The General Duty of Defined Entities

Under Part 2 of the Act, defined entities have a general duty to consider and promote gender equality across their programs, policies, and services. Part of this duty requires the organisations to demonstrate a consideration of the varied interests of and impacts to different genders.

In maintaining and upholding their general duty, defined entities must undertake gender impact assessments (“GIAs”) when developing and reviewing their programs, policies, and services, which have a direct and significant impact on the public. These GIAs must consider the following, in regards to these programs, policies, and services:

  1. The effects on different genders
  2. Improvements in order to meet the needs of different genders, address gender inequality, and promote gender equality
  3. Take into account that gender inequality may be compounded by other disadvantages or discrimination that a person may experience

A Gender Equality Action Plan

The Act also requires organisations to develop, submit, and publish a Gender Equality Action Plan (“GEAP”) every four years. GEAPs are to include the workplace gender audit results, and strategies for improving gender equality in the workplace. In preparing the GEAP, a defined entity must also take into account the gender equality principles, and consult with relevant stakeholders, such as its governing body, employees and employee representatives.

The workplace gender audit was introduced to be a tool for entities to determine the status of gender equality within their organisation. The audit must take into consideration workplace gender equality indicators, gender equality targets, and other disadvantages or discrimination that a person may experience in addition to gender inequality. The indicators to be taken into account include:

  • Gender pay equity
  • Gender composition across all levels at the workforce
  • Gender composition of the governing body
  • Workplace sexual harassment
  • Recruitment and promotion
  • Gendered workforce segregation
  • Flexible working arrangements

Reporting on Progress and the Public Sector Gender Equality Commissioner

In addition to the GEAP, organisations are also required to publish a progress report two years after submitting their GEAP. The progress reports must include information regarding:

  • Policies, programs, and services, which were subjects of a GIA, and the actions taken in response
  • The measures and strategies set out in an entity’s GEAP
  • The progress made in relation to workplace gender equality indicators and any prescribed targets or quotas

The Act also establish the role of the Public Sector Gender Equality Commissioner, whose purpose is to:

  • Promote and advance the objectives of the Act
  • Collaborate with organisations
  • Monitor progress
  • Use compliance and enforcement measures when necessary
  • Publish and share GEAPs and related progress reports to the public

The Commissioner also has the power to address breaches, which include failures of entities in developing and lodging a GEAP, reporting on indicators and applicable targets or quotas, and making reasonable and material progress against indicators or prescribed targets and quotas.

In addressing the breaches, the Commissioner has the power to:

  • Attempt to resolve the matter informally
  • Issue a compliance notice
  • Enter into an enforceable undertaking
  • Seek an order from the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal requiring compliance

TimeBase is an independent, privately owned Australian legal publisher specialising in the online delivery of accurate, comprehensive and innovative legislation research tools including LawOne and unique Point-in-Time Products. Nothing on this website should be construed as legal advice and does not substitute for the advice of competent legal counsel.

Sources:

Gender Equality Act 2020 (Vic) available from TimeBase’s LawOne Service

Gender Equality Bill 2019 (Vic) and supporting documents available from TimeBase’s LawOne Service

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