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What disputes can the Public Sector Gender Equality Commissioner resolve?

Learn about the Public Sector Gender Equality Commissioner’s role in resolving disputes about systemic gender equality issues in the workplace.

Sometimes employees and employers might need help resolving workplace gender equality issues.

This is why the Gender Equality Act 2020 provides the Commissioner with certain powers to help resolve systemic workplace gender equality issues. These powers came into effect on 31 March 2021.  

Your enterprise agreement or workplace determination may have a gender equality clause which provides the Commissioner with the power to help resolve systemic gender equality issues in your organisation.

The gender equality clause will set out how the Commissioner will assist the parties in resolving systemic workplace gender equality issues.

You may wish to speak to your relevant Human Resources or People and Culture team to determine if your enterprise agreement contains this type of clause.

  • A class or group of affected employees, a union on behalf of a class or group of affected employees, or an employer may be able to refer a dispute to the Commissioner.

    You can refer a dispute to the Commissioner if you work at one of the following entities:

    • a public sector body
    • Court Services Victoria
    • the Office of Public Prosecutions
    • an entity prescribed by regulations 

    and your enterprise agreement or workplace determination has a relevant gender equality clause allowing for the Commissioner’s involvement.

    For example:

    If the Claim is unable to be resolved between the Employer and the Claimant/s, either the Claimant/s or the Employer may refer the Claim to the Public Sector Gender Equality Commissioner (Commissioner) to deal with.
    Clause 28.4(g) of the Victorian Public Service Enterprise Agreement 2020

    The process of negotiating the contents of enterprise agreements is up to employees, employers, and employee representatives.

  • A dispute may be raised with the Commissioner if it relates to a systemic gender equality issue.

    A systemic gender equality issue means an issue of a systemic nature which relates to one or more of the workplace gender equality indicators in the Act and adversely affects a class or group of employees.

    This could include, but is not limited to, issues such as:

    • practices or policies that disproportionately promote people of a certain gender to specific roles
    • rostering practices that have unequal impact on people of different genders or with caring responsibilities
    • pay inequality based on gender
    • unreasonable limitations on flexible working arrangements that have unequal impact on people of different genders or with caring responsibilities
    • inadequate organisational policies or practices to deal with allegations of sexual harassment
    • gender inequality in types of employment, for example disproportionate gender representation in fixed term or casual positions
  • There are a range of issues that can’t be dealt with by the Commissioner, including:

    • individual disputes about the application of an enterprise agreement to your employment
    • grievances over individual decisions made by the employer
    • individual investigations into allegations of sexual harassment

    Employees should seek the assistance of their immediate manager, People and Culture/Human Resources area or relevant union for assistance with these types of individual issues or disputes in the first instance.

    Depending on the nature of the individual matter, employees may also seek the assistance of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, the Australian Human Rights Commission and/or the Fair Work Commission.

    If you’re unsure about whether the Commissioner can help, contact us.

  • Your gender equality clause will specify when you can refer a dispute to the Commissioner.

    In the first instance you should consider whether your dispute can be resolved at the workplace level without the Commissioner’s help.

    For employees, this should include discussing your issue with your employer and giving them the opportunity to respond and address the problem.

    If you are the employer seeking to refer the dispute to the Commissioner, you should make genuine attempts to resolve the matter in accordance with the relevant terms of your enterprise agreement or workplace determination.

    You can download and use the 'Internal resolution form - raising a dispute with your employer' below.

  • The Commissioner has the power to deal with a referred dispute in any way they consider appropriate.

    The Commissioner may:

    • make a recommendation or express views and opinions
    • conduct conciliation or any other dispute resolution process

    The Commissioner must act independently and impartially in dealing with a dispute.

    The Commissioner cannot conduct arbitration or make binding determinations.

  • If you have already attempted to resolve the matter at the workplace level, you may seek the assistance of the Commissioner to resolve your dispute.

    You can do so by filling in the online application form, or by completing the 'Application form – referring a dispute to the Commissioner'by hand or electronically and emailing it to disputes@genderequalitycommission.vic.gov.au. You can download the form below.

    Once the Commissioner receives a completed application form, they will review and assess whether the matter falls within scope of their function. The Commissioner may decline to deal with a dispute if is appropriate in the circumstances to do so. For example, if the dispute is between an individual and their employer or is not about a systemic gender equality issue.

    If the dispute referral is accepted, the applicant may be contacted by a Commission staff member regarding the next steps in the dispute resolution process.

    The Commissioner will then notify the respondent of the dispute, send them a copy of the form, and give them an opportunity to provide information relevant to the dispute.

    More detail on the process can be found in the 'Dispute Resolution Function – Guidance Note' below.

  • Following the dispute resolution process, some of the possible outcomes may include:

    • the Commissioner may make a recommendation to the parties about how the parties should resolve the dispute
    • the Commissioner may request that the employer include any agreed measures in their Gender Equality Action Plan (if applicable), or report back on their progress towards implementing any recommendations
    • the parties may reach agreement during the dispute resolution process on the steps for resolution.

    If an agreement is reached between the parties, the Commissioner may circulate a settlement agreement for the parties to sign – this will be legally binding.

  • There may be other rights in your enterprise agreement or workplace determination related to resolving disputes. If you are a member of a union, you may wish to contact them for advice.

Process for resolving disputes

This flowchart shows the dispute resolution process from start to finish, beginning with the systemic gender equality issue arising, to the end outcome which may be resolution within the organisation or with the assistance of the Commissioner.
Process for resolving disputes
Download Process for resolving disputes

Guidance and forms

Dispute Resolution Function – Guidance Note

You can read the Guidance Note for further detail on the types of disputes the Commissioner can help to resolve and learn more about the process and possible outcomes.

Internal resolution form – raising a dispute with your employer

This form can be used to lodge your dispute with your employer to resolve at the workplace level prior to applying to the Commissioner.

Application form – referring a dispute to the Commissioner

This form can be filled in electronically or by hand and emailed to disputes@genderequalitycommission.vic.gov.au.

Alternatively, you can fill in the online application form by clicking the button below:

Apply to the Commissioner to resolve your dispute

Reviewed 07 July 2021

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