Workers for Anti-Discrimination Reform

July 19, 2008

Former employees of the sacked Wollongong City Council (WCC) are seeking to expose the culture of sexual harassment and bullying that they say existed in the council workplace for years.

According to Vicki Curran, who told Green Left Weekly she was sexually assaulted in 2005 by former council manager Joe Scimone, the system to deal with situations like hers is seriously flawed and must be changed.

Curran was forced to settle her claim with the Anti-Discrimination Board. She had wanted it heard by the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal, which has more power and greater public scrutiny.

"They said to me, 'The most you're likely to get is $15,000'", she explained. "The money is not going to make it better, but it's the only option. [However], it'll cost you $250,000 [in legal costs] to even get a hearing. That's why I had to settle, because it was impossible. I said I wanted an investigation, but they simply pass the buck."

"Council is now saying none of it happened [to me]. There's no support", Curran said. She is currently suing WCC for defamation.

Curran is part of Workers for Anti-Discrimination Reform (WaR), a group campaigning to end bullying and highlight the discrimination that still exists in many workplaces. The group is led by several women who've faced dead ends and frustrating inaction when dealing with current anti-discrimination laws.

WaR is seeking changes that will make NSW anti-discrimination law and its administration more just. "With the amendments [we're proposing], more cases will go to a hearing", Curran said. "If more go to hearing, it'll come into the public knowledge and ... discrimination will have to be addressed."

Scimone has been the subject of numerous allegations since he resigned from his council position a week after Curran's case was settled. Since the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) inquiry into WCC began in February, other women who worked for Scimone have spoken out, but there have been no consequences so far. Curran says this is because people like Scimone are protected by people with power.

Curran told a public meeting in March that these issues won't be resolved without community involvement. However, this has been made more difficult by the NSW government's cancellation of the council elections in Wollongong this year.

Curran is supporting a community call for a royal commission that goes beyond the ICAC inquiry. "We're working to get out the truth", she told GLW.

"[They're] removing local government ... making this city nothing but a state department. We want a royal commission and we want to vote."

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