The “Australia’s Behaviour Concerns” (ABC) survey has received a good deal of press in Australia this week as it provides so many options for each State’s media to report on concerns identified by the survey’s respondents. Of the thirty-eight concerns identified, three involve occupational health and safety (OHS) directly:
- Work Harassment
- Discrimination and Bullying
- Unsafe Work Practices.
One of the significant issues with such surveys and findings is that these measure perceptions of safety and not the reality. Community concerns may be high but may mostly reflect topical events, campaigns and advertising so in terms of verifying marketing and OHS awareness campaigns, the survey may be most useful. More…
Official statistics on workplace bullying in Australia are notoriously unreliable. The Productivity Commission estimated the cost of workplace bullying with a huge margin of variation, between A$6 billion and A$36 billion annually. WorkSafe Victoria has indicated in the past that the number of interventions on workplace bullying is way below the number of workplace bullying complaints. On 29 October 2103, in a long discussion on workplace bullying the Australian Capital Territory’s Chief Minister, Katy Gallagher stated:
“According to reports from the Commissioner for Public Administration, reports of bullying and harassment have totalled 68 cases in 2010-11, 71 in 2011-12, and 118 cases in the financial year that has just passed, 2012-13. Proven cases of bullying have numbered four, eight 11 and 19 respectively. This amounts to complaints being made by 0.5 per cent of staff, and substantiated in relation to 0.08 per cent of staff.” (Hansard, page P3930, emphasis added)
These latest statistics, in conjunction with those previously reported, indicate that the perception of workplace bullying is much higher than the reality in Australia. More…
There is a constant tension between occupational health and safety (OHS) and workers compensation. OHS is intended to prevent harm and workers compensation is available for when harm cannot be, or has not been, prevented. In Australia, these two elements of safety are administered by different organisations under different legislation but it is a distinction that baffles many. The recent discussion about a sex-related workers compensation claim illustrates this bafflement to some degree.
This time last year Comcare filed an appeal over a Federal Court decision regarding
“A Commonwealth employee is seeking workers’ compensation for injuries sustained after a light fitting was pulled from the wall of a motel during sex, on a business trip.”
(A good summary of most of the legal proceedings is provided by Herbert Geer.)
The case has received wide media attention mostly for the salacious matter of the case, and some political attention, but the purpose of the appeal, according to Comcare, was
“… to seek a High Court ruling on the boundaries between private More…
On September 9 2013, the Canberra Times published an article by Bill Eddy, entitled “Bullying a practice for the whole workplace to solve“. (The article has been tweeted and referenced several times in the past week in Australia.) Bill Eddy is due in Australia soon to conduct a workshop on workplace bullying. The article has some sound advice on workplace bullying but what caught my attention was the opening line:
“Research indicates that workplace bullying has a more negative effect on employees than sexual harassment, perhaps because there are more procedures in place for dealing with sexual harassment.”
What research? More…
A most curious article about workplace bullying appeared in the Australian Financial Review (AFR) on 11 September 2013. In discussing recent changes to Australia’s Fair Work Act Nick Ruskin of K&L Gates wrote about the broad definition of workplace bullying to be applied:
“…the intriguing thing is that worker is very broadly defined. Its definition, reliant on the Workplace Health & Safety Act 2011, is so wide it could even include the director of a corporation.
In other words, non-executive directors of corporations will have the same ability as a traditional worker to take a bullying grievance to the Fair Work Commission.
We could see a situation in which a company director alleges they have been bullied by another director and seeks early intervention from the Commission.” (emphasis added)
This weekend the Australian people voted for the conservative Liberal Party to be the next Federal government. Workplace safety has been largely absent from the pre-election campaign but when it has been mentioned it has almost always been couched in terms of productivity. In the next few years, workplace safety issues must be couched in terms of productivity to have any hope of gaining the ear of the new government and, particularly, the ear of Senator Eric Abetz, the most likely candidate for the ministry of workplace relations.
Recent changes to workplace bullying laws which provide a prominent role of the Fair Work Commission are unlikely to be rolled back but Abetz has promised More…
At the Safety Show this afternoon, prominent Australian labour lawyer, Michael Tooma, spoke bluntly and confrontingly about workplace bullying in front of several hundred trade show delegates. For those companies who value a safety culture or are trying to create one, Tooma stated that if work colleagues do not stand up to bullying or report bullying as the OHS issue it fundamentally is, they are condoning the bullying.
Tooma also applies the “duty of care” broadly and says that the application of the duty of care does not sit with one person or an organisation. More…
For some time the Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has been plagued with accusations of bullying and harassment. A researcher began court action in 2011. An anonymous website “Victims of CSIRO” was established in 2012 and provides a timeline of disgruntlement for back as far as 2002. In May 2012, Liberal politician Sophie Mirabella, raised the issue of bullying in criticism of the then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. In July 2012, Comcare issued an Improvement Notice to CSIRO following an investigation
”thoroughly reviewing the workplace systems relating to the prevention and management of bullying behaviour at CSIRO”.
In September 2012, CSIRO whistleblowers spoke of bullying. The CSIRO Staff Association reported anecdotal evidence of increased bullying and harassment in late 2012.
In August 2013 HWL Ebsworth released the independent report (the Pearce report) which, according to the CSIRO, found
“no major or widespread issues with unreasonable behaviour or bullying in CSIRO”.
How does that work? More…
Mental health, happiness, well being, safety, red tape …. each of these have been linked to productivity recently in Australian discourses but, as has been mentioned previously, productivity has a flexible definition depending on one’s politics and political agenda. There is multi-factor productivity and labour productivity. Each measure provides different results. So where does OHS sit?
An article in The Weekend Australian on 27 July 2013 illustrates the flexible definitions and includes a rare acknowledgement on labour productivity.
“On the measure of labour productivity, which captures the output of each worker, productivity growth is in fact soaring, hitting 3.4 per cent in 2011-12. [emphasis added]
But on the broader measure, which includes the use business makes of capital equipment, growth is still a negligible 0.1 per cent and has declined on average 0.7 per cent a year ever since Labor was elected.”
The labour productivity figure is important to remember when one hears about excessive workloads, excessive hours of work and other potential causes for psychosocial hazards. More…
Every so often, legal seminars on industrial relations and occupational health and safety identify possible solutions instead of spruiking a lawyer’s latest publication or showing off legal expertise and OHS ignorance. In a lunchtime seminar in July 2013, Melbourne law firm Maddocks provided 30 minutes of clarity on flexible working arrangements and another 30 on workplace bullying providing a useful and refreshing bridge between human resources, industrial relations and OHS.
Flexible Work Arrangements
The Fair Work Act seems to be constantly changing and one of the most recent changes is a revision of flexible working arrangements. These arrangements have always been on the fringe of OHS but integral to HR where returning to work from extended leave needs phasing in, or where one’s familial situation has changed so that 9 to 5 is no longer manageable. OHS is not overt in these negotiations More…