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This article was written by Sally Crosswell

Sally Crosswell has a Bachelor of Laws (Hons), a Bachelor of Communication and a Master of International and Community Development. She also completed a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice at the College of Law. A former journalist, Sally has a keen interest in human rights law.

Gender Equality Act 2020


On 31 March 2021, the Gender Equality Act 2000 took effect in Victoria. The broad aim of the legislation is to require public sector organisations, local councils and universities to act to achieve gender equality in the workplace, and to promote gender equality in their policies, programs and services. The Act also establishes the Public Sector Gender Equality Commissioner to oversee compliance with the Act and accompanying regulations.

Principles

The Act is based on gender equality principles, including that:

  • gender equality:
    • benefits all Victorians;
    • is a human right and precondition to social justice;
    • brings significant economic, social and health benefits to Victorians;
    • is a precondition to preventing violence against women and girls;
  • advancing gender equality is a shared responsibility across the Victorian community;
  • all human beings, regardless of gender, should be free to live their lives without being limited by gender stereotypes, roles or prejudices;
  • gender inequality can be compounded by other forms of disadvantage or discrimination;
  • women have historically experienced discrimination and disadvantage on the basis of sex and gender;
  • special measures may be necessary to achieve gender equality.

The Act imposes a duty on public sector organisations, local councils and universities, as “defined entitles”, to promote gender equality, if they have 50 or more employees.

Gender impact assessments

When developing or reviewing any policy, program or service, a defined entity must assess the effects of the policy, program or service on gender; state how the policy, program or service will be developed or varied to meet the needs of different genders, address gender inequality, and promote gender equality; and consider any other disadvantage or discrimination.

Gender Equality Action Plans

A defined entity is required to prepare a Gender Equality Action Plan (GEAP) every 4 years and submit it to the Public Sector Gender Equality Commissioner by 31 October of the reporting year. The first was due 31 October, 2021. The entity must publish the GEAP on its website.

The defined entity must conduct a gender audit of its workplace before developing a GEAP. The audit must assess the state and nature of gender inequality in the workplace on June 30 of the year the plan is formed. The audit must use workplace gender equality indicators and consider other forms of disadvantage or discrimination.

Every second year after submitting a GEAP< a defined entity must submit a progress report to the commissioner, reporting on achievements to meet gender equality targets or quotas.

Gender equality indicators

There are 7 workplace gender equality indicators, which represent key areas where progress towards gender equality must be shown. These are:

  • gender pay equity;
  • gender composition at all levels;
  • gender composition of governing bodies;
  • sexual harassment;
  • recruitment and promotion;
  • gendered work segregation;
  • leave and flexibility.

Progress

A defined entity must make “reasonable and material progress” in relation to the workplace gender equality indicators, and any targets or quotas. Factors that must be taken into account when assessing progress include:

  • the size of the entity, including the number of employees;
  • the natures and circumstances of the entity, including any barriers to progress;
  • the entity’s resources;
  • the entity’s operational priorities and obligations;
  • the practicality and cost to the entity of making progress;
  • genuine attempts by the entity to make progress.

Monitoring and compliance

The commissioner can take action against a defined entity if the commissioner believes the entity has failed to comply with the Act, without reasonable excuse. Non-compliance includes a failure to:

  • prepare or submit a GEAP;
  • prepare or submit a progress report;
  • not make reasonable and material progress in relation to the workplace gender equality indicators, and any targets or quotas.

The commissioner can issue a compliance notice that requires the entity to prepare and submit a GEAP or a progress report, or to take any other action to comply with the Act. The commissioner must take reasonable steps to resolve the matter informally before issuing a notice. A notice must give the entity at least 60 days to submit a GEAP or progress report.

If the entity disagrees with the compliance notice, they have 14 days to lodge an objection with the commissioner, who can then withdraw, amend or confirm the notice. If the notice is confirmed, the entity can apply within 28 days to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) for a review of the commissioner’s decision.

If an entity fails to comply with a notice, the commissioner can:

  • accept a written undertaking from the entity that the entity will comply;
  • recommend the Minister for Women take any action the commissioner considers appropriate to ensure compliance;
  • publish the entity’s name and details of its non-compliance on the commissioner’s website;
  • apply to VCAT for an order directing the entity to comply.

For advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

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