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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Some of the nation’s most prominent businesses fear newly proposed rules on workplace bullying which they fear will force them to monitor the social networking of employees, which could also expose themselves to bullying claims by workers.
Safe Work Australia released a draft code of practice on bullying, but a coalition of 200 companies – many in the top 100 – are rallying against a code that could be used in court actions, alleging that bullying is extremely subjective and employee social media is out of their control outside of working hours.
The companies feel that social media the number one weapon bully’s use but if they monitor social media pages of their employees, that in itself could be construed as bullying.
The draft code reports that bullying can be done via email or text messages, internet chat rooms, instant messaging or other social media channels.
The office of Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten remarked that feedback on the code would be “appropriately considered in due course”. The office said the government had recently introduced provisions to the Fair Work Act to tackle “the scourge of workplace bullying” as it had a dreadful human cost and was a significant cost to the economy.
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Bullying is a hazard as it may affect the emotional, mental and physical health of workers.
The WHS Act defines ‘health’ as both physical and psychological health. Therefore the duties imposed under the WHS Act to ensure health and safety also includes ensuring the emotional and mental health of workers.
In some workplaces, workers may feel that they are the subject of bullying, harassment and discrimination and it may be a misunderstanding of what bullying, harassment and discrimination is that leads to dissatisfaction within the workplace. To assist in clarifying, we are going to detail the differences. The risk of bullying is minimised in workplaces where everyone treats each other with dignity and respect.
Workplace bullying is repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers, that creates a risk to health and safety.
‘Repeated behaviour’ refers to the persistent nature of the behaviour and can refer to a range of behaviours over time.
‘Unreasonable behaviour’ means behaviour that a reasonable person, having regard for the circumstances, would see as victimising, humiliating, undermining or threatening.
Impact of workplace bullying
Bullying can be harmful for the workers who experience it and those who witness it. Each individual will react differently to bullying and in response to different situations. Reactions may include any combination of the following:
- Distress, anxiety, panic attacks or sleep disturbance
- Physical illness, such as muscular tension, headaches and digestive problems
- Reduced work performance
- Loss of self-esteem and feelings of isolation
- Deteriorating relationships with colleagues, family and friends
- Depression and risk of suicide.
Those persons who witness bullying may experience guilt and fear because they cannot help or support the affected person in case they too get bullied. Witnesses may feel angry, unhappy or stressed with the workplace and may become unmotivated to work.
Bullying can also damage organisations. It can lead to:
- High staff turnover and associated recruitment and training costs
- Low morale and motivation
- Increased absenteeism
- Lost productivity
- Disruption to work when complex complaints are being investigated, and
- Costly workers’ compensation claims or legal action.
The NSW government has backed the parliamentary inquiry into WorkCover following a NSW Industrial Relations report of workplace bullying. This report emerged when a senior employee was allegedly bullied out of his job.
Greens MP David Shoebridge, who put forth the idea for an inquiry, has welcomed the government’s support. . ”It is completely unacceptable to have ongoing bullying in WorkCover which is the government body tasked with protecting all employees from harassment in the workplace,” he said.
”This most recent finding by the IRC raises serious concerns about the culture of WorkCover.
”There have been ongoing concerns within WorkCover of systematic bullying and mistreatment of staff for years, yet despite reviews and promises it seems nothing has changed.”
Mr Shoebridge cited 2011 report by PricewaterhouseCoopers which found 40 per cent of WorkCover employees reported experiencing harassment and bullying.
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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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Barbera Etter, former head of Tasmania’s Integrity Commission, has accused the State Governor of bullying. These accusations come nearly a year after Etter quit her job as Integrity Commissioner, one year into a five-year contract with the government.
Famed WA union boss Joe McDonald again been fined for bullying employees at a construction site. The most recent fine against Mr McDonald and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union takes the combined total against the pair to over $1 million since 2005, according to Fair Work Building and Construction.
Revealed in the Federal Magistrates Court, Mr McDonald, the CFMEU WA assistant secretary, said that if Herdsman Business Park i workers weren’t a member of the union they could “F**king go and find” employment elsewhere. There are no requirements for workers to be union members.
During a meeting with the employees of various subcontractors, Mr McDonald said he would close down the site because there were not enough amenities or toilets and the scaffolding was not safe. Two other CFMEU officers also instructed workers to stop work and leave the site. All but four did for the rest of the day. The court heard that shortly after, the site manager told Mr McDonald he had arranged for additional toilets for the site, but Mr Donald responded “I don’t care, the men aren’t going back to work”. Mr McDonald was found guilty of unlawful industrial action and making false and misleading statements about workers’ requirements to join the union and fined $6380. The union was fined $28,600 plus $15,000 in costs to be paid to FWBC. Mr McDonald and the CFMEU have been embroiled in numerous legal cases relating to bullying of workers at WA construction sites.
They were recently ordered to pay a $200,000 penalty for engaging in a targeted industrial campaign against the same company on another site. Last year Mc McDonald lost an appeal against a $8000 fine for taking unlawful strike action at City Square in the CBD on July 15, 2009. He had encouraged workers with occupational health and safety concerns to walk off the job for the day. The union also was fined $40,000 for the illegal action. FWBC chief executive Leigh Johns said Mr McDonald was misusing union members’ fees. “Mr McDonald is a recidivist who regularly flouts workplace laws and then turns up to court with no defence, ready to do a deal using CFMEU members’ funds,” Mr Johns said. “While we welcome the court’s handing down the penalties and costs, the fact is that Mr McDonald has wasted the court’s time, as well as some $250,000 worth of union funds in recent weeks alone. “If Mr McDonald stopped his pattern of unlawful behaviour, hard-working members of his union would be better off, in both their industrial outcomes, and through savings of some $1 million his actions have cost them in penalties since 2005.”
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Nick Clements stated that he was squired with a highly flammable cleansing solvent and then was subsequently set on fire by a co-worker at Haeusler’s farm machinery dealership in Victoria. Clements, who had been diagnosed with high functioning autism as a child, was nine days into a two-week trial period when the incident occurred. Clements was reportedly squirted in the crotch with the flammable substance.
Nathan Frizzle, the apprentice who set Clemments on fire is still employed at Haeusler’s after pleading guilty to the assault.Frizzle was granted a 12-month good behaviour bond and a just a $500 fine.
Prior to the court ruling, WorkSafe, decided it would not take any action because of the police charges.With most options expired, the Clements family plans to lodge a victims-of-crime complaint with the Director of Public Prosecutions.
WorkSafe’s decision has left Clements and his family very disappointed.
“I find it a disgusting outcome. It feels like a real spit in the face to see what he got,” said Clements.
Famed anti-bullying lawyer Moira Rayner is heading efforts to establish a national tribunal to allow civil claims.Rayner believes WorkSafe’s behavior to Clements is not exclusive to him and the watchdog organisation should have done much more to help him
“I have always regarded bullying as a failure by management and all our bullying law is unsatisfactory because they don’t give the individual a personal right of redress,” she said.
“If they make a WorkCover claim or a WorkSafe claim and it doesn’t end up because of technicalities in addressing their problems, then the person who’s been bullied, victimised and psychologically if not physically harmed may well have on top of that a sense of grave injustice.
“When someone could have been killed in a classic apprentice-playing-with-fire incident, there should have been an immediate and effective intervention in the workplace so the employer, the employees and the apprentices got the message very loud and clear that this could have ended up in a manslaughter charge.”
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
Unions are pushing for the use of jail terms for cases of workplace bullying. Recently the The Australian Council of Trade Unions’ submitted a motion to a parliamentary committee recommending an increase in the severity of penalties for individuals accused of workplace bullying. The recommendation discusses the potential of implementing jail terms for extreme cases, and increase in recognition that employers have a responsibility to ensure that their workplace is bully-free.
The ACTU discussed the findings of the Productivity Commission which revealed through research that workplace bullying costs the economy between $6 and $36 billion a year.
ACTU assistant secretary Michael Borowick, provided evidence to the inquiry in Melbourne. While Borowick stated her support for stronger and more severe penalties, she did however emphasize the importance of a shift in workplace culture which would thereby ensure that such bullying never occurs.
Employer body, the Australian Industry Group stated that employers were vehemently against any form of bullying and matters of bullying are treated with importance.
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A worker for Coopers Brewery reportedly offered to pull down a female cleaner’s pants to spank her and also touched her inappropriately.
Jennifer Fiedler took her sexual harassment claim to the Federal Court against the company and the accused worker, Terry Allen.
Fiedler is seeking $150,000 in damages over the alleged sexual assault. The incident in question allegedly occurred on the companies property on July,5 2010. Fiedler was employed by Exact Cleaning Maintenance Services and was subsequently contracted to clean at the Coopers building.
Fiedler claimed that she was performing her normal duties and entered a room looking for her mop and asked four men if they had seen her mop. Terry Allen replied to her”No, pull down your pants and I’ll spank your bottom.” She refused his offer and Allen said
“I’ll pull them down and I’ll spank your bottom.” When Fiedler again refused, Allen grabbed her breasts and made a groaning sound. Fiedler said the incident left her feeling “offended, humiliated, and intimidated”.
Coopers denied any liability for the incident on the basis that they took all reasonable steps to prevent Allen’s actions.
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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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What are some examples of bullying behaviour, or workplace harassment?
Bullying behaviour can be obvious and aggressive. Examples could include: (more…)
In the days before Kevin Morrissey committed suicide near the University of Virginia campus, at least two co-workers said they warned university officials about his growing despair over alleged workplace bullying at the award-winning Virginia Quarterly Review. (more…)
One definition of workplace bullying is: “the repeated less favourable treatment of a person by another or others in the workplace, which may be considered unreasonable and inappropriate workplace practice. It includes behaviour that intimidates, offends, degrades or humiliates a worker.” (more…)
In some cases a behaviour that is perceived to be inappropriate and bullying is nothing more than one person being oblivious to the impact they are unintentionally having on someone else. (more…)
Bullying is not acceptable workplace behaviour and it should not be tolerated in any form.
Workplace bullying should be treated like any other health and safety hazard. As part of normal workplace risk management procedures, bullying incidents, practices or potential for bullying should be identified, assessed for risk, and steps taken to minimise the risk. Follow-on procedures should ensure bullying does not occur or continue.
Bullying can adversely affect the health and safety of employees. It is unacceptable under the Occupational (Workplace )Health and Safety Acts and Regulations. The legislation requires employers and employees to maintain a safe and healthy workplace. Supervisors are encouraged to participate in developing safe work procedures to deal with bullying, and providing it is safe to do so, should report incidents of bullying to an appropriate person at the workplace.
What is workplace bullying?
One definition of workplace bullying is: “the repeated less favourable treatment of a person by another or others in the workplace, which may be considered unreasonable and inappropriate workplace practice. It includes behaviour that intimidates, offends, degrades or humiliates a worker.”
Another definition is: ‘Workplace bullying means any behaviour that is repeated, systematic and directed towards an employee or group of employees that a reasonable person, having regard to the circumstances, would expect to victimise, humiliate, undermine or threaten and which creates a risk to health and safety.’