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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The Fair Work Commission (FWC) will struggle to deal with a sudden overflow of bullying claims once the federal government delegates control of bullying complaints to the workplace tribunal. The warning comes from the employment legal centre JobWatch which claims the tribunal could be required to handle more than 10,000 bullying complaints a year.
A Senate committee is considering the bullying proposals as part of proposed changes by Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten to the Fair Work Act. Under the changes the commission would be required to list any application for consideration within 14 days. It will be able to make orders to deal with the complaint as well as refer matters to the relevant state regulator. Failure to comply with an order of the commission would attract a maximum penalty of up to $33,000.
In a submission to the committee, JobWatch welcomed the 14-day time limit but questioned the commission’s capacity to “deal with what will undoubtedly be a massive influx of stop bullying applications”. In the 12 months to July 2011, WorkSafe Victoria received more than 6000 complaints about workplace bullying. “If this figure is extrapolated across all Australian states and territories, even by a conservative estimate, the FWC is going to receive hundreds, if not thousands, of stop bullying applications per year, possibly even more than 10,000,” it says.
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Recently there have been a rise in the number of Workplace Bullying incidents that have been reported by the media. In light of this, and PM Gillard’s recent vow to put workplace on the national agenda, we at AlertForce decided to provide you all with some information relating to the Human Resources issue of Workplace Bullying.
What is Workplace Bullying?
Workplace bullying involves any behavior in which an employee is physically, mentally or socially threatened.
What to look out for:
- frequent painful remarks or verbal attacks, or making fun of your work or you as a person (family, sex, sexuality, gender identity, race or culture, education or economic background)
- sexual harassment – including any unwelcome physical contact and comments and requests that are sexually suggestive
- excluding you or stopping you from working with people or taking part in activities that relates to your work
- psychological harassment — group of individuals ganging up on a single person
- any type of intimidation, belittlement or making someone appear inferior or undervalued
- Assigning pointless tasks that have absolutely nothing to do with your job.
- Granting unrealistic deadlines for impossible jobs
- pushing, shoving, tripping, grabbing you while at work
- initiation or hazing : Being compelled to do humiliating or inappropriate things in order to be accepted as part of the team.
How big of a problem is Workplace Bullying? Is it my’problem even if I’m not bullied?
Workplace bullying has resulted in an ever growing cost to public. Is it your problem? The short answer is a resounding ‘Yes!’. According to the PM Gillard’s review implemented by The Productivity Commission : the total cost of workplace bullying in Australia is somewhere between $6 billion and $36 billion annually.
As a tax payer, this type of problem affects you. You may ask yourself ” How can I solve this problem? Isn’t it out of my hands?”. Well, it is up to us as employers or employees, to ensure that proper Human Resources training and anti-bullying training is provided to all employees. If everyone from the bullies to the bullied, understand the risks and the costs and subsequently the effects on business — then this issue can one day be eliminated or at least helped.
“Costs on Businesses ? What Kind of Costs?!”
Financial costs can include legal and workers’ compensation and management time in addressing cases of workplace bullying.
Individuals who are bullied at work are shown to;
- become less active,less successful and less confident at work.
- become fearful,stressed, anxious or depressed thus limited productivity
- increased staff absences, staff turnover and weak overall workplace morale.
It may be tempting for an employer to overlook something like workplace bullying and focus on more immediate workplace dangers, but the simple fact is — these problems CAN be avoided, these costs CAN be avoided — But it is up to everyone to bring these issues to light so that everyone can be successful and no one is bullied at work.
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The parliamentary inquiry revealed that the teenage boy left high school at age 16 to start work as an apprentice chef at a local hospital. It was at this hospital he experienced an ingrained culture of workplace bullying in the hospital kitchen. He was at the end of constant put-downs,jokes, sexual innuendo, tampering with his possessions and eventually, sexual abuse.
The brother was reportedly being bullied consistently for two years by his immediate supervisor and co-workers.
The culture of bullying in the kitchen had allegedly become so ingrained that many long-standing members of staff became used to it and subsequently turned a blind eye or laughed along with the taunting.
About the inquiry:
- The impacts of workplace bullying in Australia could be as high as $36 billion every year
- The committee in investigating what can be done to prevent workplace bullying
- Submissions are still open to the public, with the committee to report its findings to parliament in due course
135 workers in the private and public sector participated in the online- survey.Three quarters of the participants claimed to have been bullied, and most of them allege that it occurred within the last twelve months.The survey also revealed that over half of all bullying incidents were left unreported.
85% of those who reported incidents claim to have been dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the response.Majority of participants called for specialist bullying inspectors on behalf of WorkSafe ACT.
Spokesperson for the party, Amanda Bresnan says the survey signifies the need for greater victim support and prevention strategies. Bresnan stated that they are still committed to proposed legislation to deal with the problem of workplace bullying.
The legislation calls for the implementation of specialist positions and an expert advisory committee on the issue.
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They awarded the nurse over $20,000 in compensation for her claims of discrimination. The panel found that the nurse was treated unjustly because of her inability to work night shifts due to her medical condition. The tribunal decided that it was unnecessary for nurses to be available ever hour of the day, 7-days a week.
The Queensland Nurses Union (QNU) felt that the ruling signifies the need for employers to be flexible to the needs of their employees. . Secretary for the QNU, Beth Mohle believes the judgement sends an important message to all employers.
Mohle discussed the recent decision will encourage employers to be more thoughtful in the action they take.However, in her opinion, the health board should have been able to apply a reasonable policy without the assistance of the court – especially when involving those with disabilities .
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ACT Work Safety Commissioner Mark McCabe revealed that an investigation in to workplace bullying which was conducted at the Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT), is now completed.The investigation was launched as a result of several ideas submitted to WorkSafe ACT by various CIT employees regarding CIT measures for handling bullying and harassment situations.
McCabe said that the WorkSafe ACT investigation determined that the CIT had breached the Territory’s health and safety legislation.
The investigation revealed that the CIT lacks an adequate prevention and response system for incidents of bullying and harassment in the workplace.
WorkSafe issued an Improvement Notice that compels the CIT to improve a number of aspects of its systems and procedures regarding bullying and harassment of staff. The CIT has six months to fulfill all the requirements in the notice in order to ensure that the organization has an efficient prevention and management system for this human resources issue.
The report regarding the bullying and harassment systems at CIT is called WORKSAFE ACT INVESTIGATION INTO COMPLIANCE BY THE CANBERRA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY (CIT) WITH ITS DUTIES UNDER THE WORK SAFETY ACT 2008 AND THE WORK HEALTH AND SAFETY ACT 2011 IN RESPONSE TO ALLEGATIONS OF BULLYING AND HARASSMENT AT THE CIT . It can be accessed and downloaded in PDF format from WorkSafe’s website.
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The ACT Greens launched the online survey to find out if people were satisfied with the complaints process upon reporting incidents of intimidation. Greens MLS Amanda Bresnan maintains that the survey is completely anonymous .
Bresnan stated that they have acknowledge that the workplace has a very high incidence of bullying. Therefore, they have are trying to gather more information as to why incidents go unreported.
Bresnan added that some individuals have been dissatisfied with the response they get upon filing reports. She indicated that this dissatisfaction could be a main reason for the lack of reporting. She alleges that the government needs to do more on the issue of workplace bullying because other states have introduced expertise in the legislation which could potentially increase confidence in the system.
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Safe Work Australia has made light of changes to its draft code on workplace bullying following complaints by both unions and employer groups that the code was not specific enough about what constitutes bullying.
SFA spokesperson Ingrid Kimber stated that 70 out of 331 submissions on broader OHS issues, were related to the draft bullying code.According to Kimber (in her remarks to SmartCompany), the body is considering having an expert in the field advise them on the matter.Depending on how drastic of the changes, it may be released once again for public comment.
The draft code on workplace bullying falls under the legislation of the OHS Harmonisation laws which have been approved federally in various states. Of course, Victoria, WA, Tasmania and SA did not legislate in time to meet the January 1 deadline.
According to the draft code, workplace bullying is defined as “repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety”
The following examples constitute as bullying:
- Abusive or offensive language,
- Gossiping and spreading malicious rumours
- Regularly making someone the brunt of practical jokes,
- Unreasonably overloading a person with work or not providing enough work,
- Deliberately changing work arrangements such as rosters and leave to inconvenience a particular worker
The Australian Council of Trade Unions has however, stated that the code fails to address workplace bullying with the same level of specificity and seriousness as any other workplace hazard or risk.
The code, according to critics, must make it clear that the bullying it targets is a “pattern of behaviour”
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry stated that there needs to be a clear difference between feeling aggrieved and what is systemic, inappropriate behaviour” since normal managerial conduct should be seen as bullying behaviour.
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Senator Abetz is concerned that the Labor party firstly states that they condemn bullying but then quietly state to the trade unions that they are willing to “pull the teeth of the ABCC”. Abetz believes that the Labor Party is sending a mixed message on the Human Resources issue of bullying.
Legislation was introduced into parliament in November with aims to eliminate the Howard-government appointed ABCC.
Initially the body was established with the purpose of investigating and addressing corruption while also monitoring tactics in the building and construction sector.Abetz stated that the government is “speaking with a forked tongue” since they accept that bullying is bad but then discuss removing a sector where bullying, thuggery, and intimidation , is monitored and investigated.
The ACTU and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union have (according to The Australian) demanded strict countrywide rules on workplace bullying, since they believe an incident of indecent behaviour can result in health and safety risks.
Safe Work Australia has drafted a code of practice on bullying but unions have cited concerns that the model code of practice falls short. Employers are also concerned that the reforms will trigger an
Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten stated that any form of bullying is unacceptable and costs billions of dollars every year when one considers workers compensation and stress leave.
Shorten stated that he had seen the tragic result of letting work place bullying go unchecked. He is referring to the suicide of young woman who was employed within the restaurant industry.
Mr Shorten said the government was “determined” to get a consensus on what constitutes workplace bullying. Shorten has declared that the government is determined to ascertain what the consensus on what workplace bullying is.
Shorten stated that the government is dedicated to developing a code and a effectively stamping out the Human Resources issue, workplace bullying.
Recently, a survey conducted by the ACT Government, indicated that more than 1600 public servants had been bullied or harassed in the past 20 months. The Greens stated that workplace bullying is a harmful and sinister practice that costs the nation billions of dollars each year.
ACT Greens aim to institute a special department within WorkSafe that would manage bullying complaints from the government workers.3 specialised positions are to be set up in order to look into the complaints.The hope is that by having these different specialised positions that each issue will be looked at in a thorough and empathetic manner.
The Australian Human Rights Commission have estimated that cost of this Human Resources issue is in the billions, and this is discounting the effects on health. Furthermore in contributes to a large number of lost work hours. It affects business as well as people.
Despite the costs involved in organising the unit, it is believed that the cost of bullying far outweighs it.
The proposed legislation will also focus on workplace fatigue, customer aggression and occupational violence.
Other states have allegedly introduced similar legislation.
A majority of female learners at the Australian Defence Force Academy state the organisation is a protected and giving location, despite a high profile investigation that determined approximately three quarters have been victims of low-level sexual harassment.
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick said there have been significant improvements over the treatment of women since the Grey Review but more was needed.
”ADFA today is a vastly improved institution with a culture that has evolved significantly since the 1990s,” she continued, ”[However] our review found widespread, low-level sexual harassment, inadequate levels of supervision, particularly for first year cadets, an equity and diversity environment marked by punishment rather than engagement and cumbersome complaints procedures.Ms Broderick was queried to investigate the treatment of women at ADFA in April after a sex scandal involving Skype.
Members of her group have expressed themselves to 300 of the 1100 cadets. The commissioner’s inquiries into the behaviour against women are continuing.
Ms Broderick made 31 recommendations and stated that the Government and Defence required recommitting to ADFA as a ”centre of tri-service excellence” as a issue of urgency. The organisation had suffered and there was ambiguity over its role.Ms Broderick said the high incidence of low-level harassment did not involve lawless individual acts.
Sexual tales, sexy antics, sexy comments and inquiries about people’s personal lives all assisted to a sexualised environment.
Broderick stated that the vulnerability of women at ADFA to such misconduct was recognized by investigators showed by a previous cadet.That cadet had indicated in her proposal there was a strong trend of the commodification of women, especially as sexual objects. Female cadets were treated as sexual objects rather than professional colleagues.
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WorkSafe, the agency that investigates cases of bullying and other human resources/occupational health and safety concerns have found themselves being accused of bullying. The accusation has been subject to requests for independent inquiry.
The Age has conducted an investigation that determined that many employees find themselves working in a environment built on fear and bullying by their bosses.About 100 bullying cases have been investigated by WorkSafe over the last five years. Over 20 of the bullying incidents occurred this past year.Senior executives at WorkSafe have indicated that they were aware of approximately 8 bullying-related cases that are being investigated.
According to a former employee (in an interview with The Age), employees are very afraid to talk about the incidents of bullying. The former staff member can’t fathom how WorkSafe can advise others how to deal with bullying incidents, if the organisation itself has its own cases. This investigation follows the sudden resignation of a prominent executive who was accused of bullying and discrimination.
Employee morale at WorkSafe has apparently dropped drastically, according to an employee survey. The survey indicated that one third of employees felt that their bosses did not care about them, their safety, or wellbeing.
An inspector for The Age has stated that one department of WorkSafe contains some of the biggest bullies than in any other department. A cold, fearful environment exists that has left many employees in tears on a daily basis.
Roberta Barnettt,a former policewoman has been granted over $100,000 after she complained of bullying while being a policewoman.. The Policewoman was bullied following a incident in which she refused the advances of a senior female officer.
Work Health Court had previously determined that Barnett had been mentally injured from her experiences at work and had faced excessive punitive action from her female senior staff sergeant.Barnett faced dismissal in 2008 after she remaining on sick leave for an extended period of time.She will now receive over 90 thousand dollars in compensation for lost income. She will also receive funds to cover her medical costs.