Twelve women sue Perfection Fresh for workplace sexual harassment

Twelve women sue Perfection Fresh for workplace sexual harassment

Federal Court of Australia

Twelve women are suing major fresh produce company Perfection Fresh in one of Australia’s biggest workplace sexual harassment and assault cases.

Proceedings at the Federal Court of Australia began last Thursday, with the United Workers Union representing the former employees at Perfection Fresh.

The women who are the complainants of the lawsuit were contract workers, hired externally by a labour hire company. They were employed at the Perfection Fresh Two Wells Glasshouse, located outside of North Adelaide in South Australia, where the alleged sexual harassment occurred.

Two former employees at Perfection Fresh have been accused of perpetrating the harassment, and Perfection Fresh has confirmed with Women’s Agenda the employees no longer work at the company as a result of the accusations.

Industrial and Employment lawyer April Zahra said while this is a major case happening in Australia, it is “nothing new” in terms of sexual harassment in Australian workplaces.

April Zahra, industrial and employment lawyer at Slater and Gordon. Credit: Slater and Gordon

“There is no place for sexual harassment in the workplace ever,” Zahra said. 

“These women are working with their union and courageously coming forward to hold a powerful organisation accountable, and to make workplaces safer for all women, especially farm and seasonal workers.

“Unfortunately, the information this lawsuit is bringing to light is not new. Sexual harassment is not only prevalent against farm and seasonal workers, but is common in all Australian workplaces.”

A spokesperson from Perfection Fresh told Women’s Agenda said the company is responding to the allegations accordingly.

“Perfection Fresh takes any allegation of sexual harassment extremely seriously. It has workplace policies and procedures on appropriate conduct, as well as processes for raising complaints and the protection of complainants,” the spokesperson said.

“Perfection Fresh treated the complaints made against two employees very seriously when they were raised and responded accordingly.”

The spokesperson said the company has terminated the employment of the accused employees in both cases of alleged sexual harassment.

“Perfection Fresh acknowledges the very serious nature of the complaints and the impact of the alleged conduct on the women involved,” the spokesperson said. “We remain committed to providing a safe workplace for all workers.”

“As the allegations are currently the subject of proceedings before the Federal Court, Perfection Fresh cannot make any further comments about these matters at this time.”

Workplace sexual harassment

The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Personal Safety Survey 2021-2022 highlights just how common workplace sexual harassment and sexual assault is.

The research found 1.7 million Australian adults (8.7 per cent) experienced sexual harassment in 2021-2022. One in three people in Australian workplaces were being sexually harassed, a range that has remained unchanged in the last six years.

Zahra from Slater and Gordon said there is more progress to be made in tackling the issue of workplace sexual harassment.

“Many people think that due to growing awareness, incidences of sexual harassment are diminishing. However, in the legal field we can see this is not the case,” Zahra said.

“In my work, myself and my colleagues, continue to see serious sexual harassment claims, with no sign of them slowing down.”

Sexual harassment disproportionately affects women from migrant and refugee backgrounds. Last year, a report from Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) found almost 50 per cent of migrant and refugee women have experienced sexual harassment.

The report also found women who were working in temporary or casual roles were more likely to experience workplace sexual harassment and that many believed their race or religion were motivating factors for the harassment.

A lot of the horticultural industry is made up of temporary migrant workers, and Zahra from Slater and Gordon said the case against Perfection Fresh is unfortunately not the first of its kind.

“The migrant status of the workers on these farms means that these women are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment and other forms of exploitation,” Zahra said.

“It is no exaggeration to say that organisations need to do more to keep their workers safe. These twelve women, through their union, have been able to speak up for vulnerable workers everywhere and we stand behind them.”

In December last year, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) announced new regulatory measures to enforce positive duty in preventing unlawful conduct in the workplace. 

The measures require employers and persons conducting a business or undertaking to “take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate, as far as possible, unlawful conduct”. Crucially, the changes enforce active measures to prevent sexual harassment, discrimination and other unlawful conduct, as opposed to responding to or managing unlawful conduct after the fact.

However, when the positive duty changes came into effect, advocates, including human rights lawyer Prabha Nandagopal, were concerned the changes would not reach the intersections of women in Australia; that is, the changes would not help women of colour, migrants and refugees, First Nations women and more.


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