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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.  

Importantly, your enterprise agreement or workplace determination must have a relevant gender equality clause or term allowing for the Commissioner’s involvement.

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

  • 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 (eg. a local council)

    You and your employer must be covered by an enterprise agreement or workplace determination that 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

  • 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.

    An application form to refer a matter to the Commissioner is coming soon. 

  • 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.

  • More detailed guidance on the Commissioner’s role in dispute resolution is coming soon.

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Reviewed 29 April 2021

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