the Canberra Institute of Technology owes an apology to victims of workplace bullying there over the years, according to the territory’s Public Service Commissioner.
But according to the long-awaited official report on the allegations that have dogged the school for years, accusations of a toxic culture and systematic bullying have been blown out of proportion.
Nevertheless, ACT taxpayers have already paid $670,000 for a team of specialist investigators to look into the bullying claims and the spending looks set to continue, with 19 misconduct investigations still under way over eight employees.
Commissioner Andrew Kefford’s report on the years of controversy at CIT has been published by the ACT government and contains eight recommendations for reform, with an apology to victims the first item on the agenda for change.
Mr Kefford also wants to see changes to the workplace culture at CIT and a commitment to more transparent management and better complaints handling.
The commissioner was called in to investigate after an “improvement notice” from WorkSafe ACT in April 2012 ordering CIT to put its house in order and provide a workplace safe from bullying and harassment.
In his report, Mr Kefford says that complaints from 42 past and present workers at CIT over a 10-year period provided clear evidence that all was not right at CIT for a significant period of time.
“The fact that complaints were received about the workplace experiences of 42 current and former CIT employees covering more than 10 years is clearly evidence in the institute’s management of people,” Mr Kefford wrote. “That some of these matters are still contested is evidence in itself that the process used to deal with those issues could have been done better.”
Mr Kefford noted the allegations were “not large in number” in an organisation with 1000 staff and more than 20,000 students, but he found that, in some cases, inept handling of bullying complaints made matters worse.
“It is unfortunate that the way in which a small number of cases workplace issues have been managed has made things worse, not better,” he wrote.
Despite the referral of eight individuals from CIT for investigation for misconduct under the Public Service Management Act, Mr Kefford said most of the complaints fell “into the category of failings in management of workplace issues”.
He also found the public portrayal of CIT throughout the controversy had been unduly negative.
“The public portrayal of CIT has sometimes been of an agency characterised by entrenched and systematic workplace bullying,” Mr Kefford wrote.”That is not, and has not been, the case. It would be a significant and damaging overstatement to describe the overall culture of CIT as toxic.”
Despite the desire of CIT and the ACT government’s Education Directorate to move on from the controversy, Mr Kefford conceded that some present and former staff were likely to remain unhappy with the investigation into their complaints.
“There will always be cases where individuals remain unhappy at the end of an investigation or review process,” he wrote.
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