Australia’s workplace bullying report is a missed mental health opportunity 1

Cover of Workplace Bullying Final ReportThe report, issued last week, from Australia’s Parliamentary Inquiry into Workplace Bullying, is a terrific discussion on workplace bullying but is a major missed opportunity to achieve necessary change, and change in this area equates to the reduction of, principally, psychological harm to workers and their families.

The report starts off shakily by giving prominence to a statement that is clearly wrong. Page 1 of the report quotes Carlo Caponecchia and Anne Wyatt, saying:

“Bullying is the key workplace health and safety issue of our time.”

Caponecchia and Wyatt may believe that, but to open a Parliamentary report with this quote shows poor judgement from the Committee by giving workplace bullying prominence over other workplace health and safety (WHS) hazards and issues. Workplace bullying may indeed be the most difficult workplace health and safety challenge but that is very different from what the quote says. More…

First look at Australia’s workplace bullying report 5

Australia’s Parliamentary Inquiry into Workplace Bullying has released its report that includes 23 recommendations and a dissenting report from the Coalition (conservative) committee members.

The first recommendation that most will look forward is the latest workplace bullying definition. The committee suggests:

“repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers, that creates a risk to health and safety”.

This is no great shake from most of the previous definitions but illustrates further the isolation of Victoria from nationally harmonised work health and safety laws as WorkSafe Victoria’s preferred definition is

“… persistent and repeated negative behaviour directed at an employee that creates a risk to health and safety.”

Regardless of which definition is “better”, Victoria will be further out-of-sync.

The Committee also recommends the Government

“develop a national advisory service that provides practical and operational advice on what does and does not constitute workplace bullying..”

This is sorely needed and will relieve State OHS regulators of the pressure and the resources. No timeline is mentioned but it is likely that the Federal Government will move to establish such a service quickly, as the recommendation is not surprising.

However, the opposition political mantra for any government initiative is how it will be funded. More…

Challenges for WorkSafe Victoria at WorkSafe Week 1

As part of the annual WorkSafe Week, WorkSafe‘s Ian Forsyth presented the organisation’s OHS strategy to a large crowd at the Melbourne Convention Centre on 28 October 2012.

Harmonisation

Clearly Forsyth anticipated questions about the Victorian Government’s decision not to implement the model Work Health and Safety laws that will exist in all but two States and territories from 1 January 2013. He stressed that the government is adamant that the WHS laws will not be introduced “in the foreseeable future” and therefore Victorians need to refocus on compliance with the existing Victorian laws. He effectively shutdown any discussion on those laws before they started. The laws are off the Victorian table so let’s start working with what we have.

His stance has great significance for Victorian businesses and almost projected isolationism as a positive move. Part of his, familiar, justification was that the model WHS laws were based largely on the Victorian occupational health and safety laws and so there is little need to change, particular if the change would increase the regulatory cost burden to Victorian businesses. More…

Workplace Bullying Beat-Up 7

Over the last few weeks the Australian print media has published several articles based on the expressions of concern by some business and employer associations about  Safe Work Australia’s code of practice on workplace bullying.  The latest article was in the Sunday Herald-Sun on 28 October 2012, “Bullying blueprint attacked” (not available in its original form online), which opens with the inflammatory paragraph:

“Workers in cushy jobs will be able to claim compo for being left idle, under national laws drawn up to combat bullying.”

The later online version of the article, by the same writer, Natasha Bita, has a much less aggressive title, “Plan to ban work pranks”, and a revised text.  The “new” opening paragraph says:

“Workers will be able to claim compensation if their boss does not provide them with enough work and office pranks would be banned under national laws to combat bullying.”

This has not stopped Senator Eric Abetz releasing a media statement which states that the workplace bullying code reads

“like something out of the socialist playbook whereby personal  responsibility is thrown out the window and everyone is bound in bubble wrap.”

Senator Abetz is known for these types of colourful statements but the question that should be asked is, why raise these concerns now? More…

Momentum increases for tangible action on workplace bullying 8

According to the Canberra Times, a company board has been served with an improvement notice over inadequate attention to workplace bullying claims in a retirement home.  The ABC television program, 7.30, has followed up workplace bullying claims aired earlier this month with a further case on 25 September 2012 with savage criticism of WorkSafe Victoria’s actions in the case.

The Australian Government has completed the public hearings of its Parliamentary Inquiry into workplace bullying.  Bullying is everywhere but little seems to be happening to address the various elements and deficiencies of the regulatory system.

On 21 September 2012 the WorkSafe ACT Commissioner warned about inaction on workplace bullying:

“If bullying has not occurred, then a properly conducted investigation should find that… If, on the other hand, an independent investigation substantiates the allegations, then the employer will be in a position to act to protect their workers from any ongoing threat to their health and safety.” More…

CCH and Freehills produce a curate’s egg of an OHS book 1

CCH Australia has a long history as a prominent publisher on occupational health and safety issues but its latest book is a “curate’s egg”.

Australian law firm, Freehills, has always been very involved with CCH’s “Master occupational, or work, health and safety  guides but the 2012 edition of the Australian Master Work Health and Safety Guide is a more obvious marketing tool for Freehills than previous editions.  The books have long had a back page advertisement.  This year’s back page is devoted entirely to Freehills. The early pages of this edition include ten of photos of Freehills authors contributors with another eight of other non-Freehills authors before any useful text appears.  It is difficult to see the need for such prominence when names alone have been sufficient in books for decades.

The book is also much more graphical and pictorial than previous editions but CCH’s decision to keep the book’s contents in black and white is less than impressive.  Some of the monochrome photos in the Manual Tasks chapter are indistinct. Previous OHS books like CCH’s 2003 Australian Master OHS and Environment Guide had no graphics so colour was not missed.  The lack of colour was a poor decision for this book.

The chapters on the model Work Health and Safety laws are less interesting than those sections dealing specifically with hazards.  This book is a good introduction to many of the OHS issues that safety professionals will deal with or need to be aware.  One recently graduated work colleague found the chapter on Plant Safety particularly good but basic.  The information on the WHS laws seems familiar, and similar information is likely to be available from a much cheaper source or from reputable online sources.

More…

Where do workers and managers learn about respect? 6

The origins of workplace bullying behaviour seem many.  One of the issues to, hopefully, emerge from Australia’s inquiry into workplace bullying is how to prevent and minimise bullying, but to do so, one will need to identify the causes.  And these causes need to be more than an amorphous, unhelpful concept like “workplace culture”.

David Yamadamake this comment in his blog, “Minding the Workplace“, about a recent article in a New York Times blog (gosh, social media feeds social media.  What’s a newspaper, Daddy?):

“Doctors and lawyers in training may have no idea how to conduct themselves as practitioners, other than being influenced by a lot of unfortunate “role models” on television. If we want to prevent workplace bullying, the training schools for these professions are the first and perhaps best places to start.”

This point links thematically to several recent SafetyAtWorkBlog articles about defining a safety profession, moving from a practice to a profession, workplace culture and workplace bullying. More…

New anti-bullying campaign launched 2

Brodies’ Law concerning workplace bullying is set to gain more media attention today as the Victorian Attorney-General, Robert Clark, launches a new anti-bullying campaign.

The campaign has been pushed for by the parents of Brodie Panlock, Damien and Rae, and was whispered about at recent public hearings into workplace bullying.  However, the media campaign gained a shaky start on the ABC from psychologist Evelyn Field.  Her interview, which was videoed, appears almost off-topic and never gains the gravitas the subject of workplace bullying deserves.  The ABC may be partly at fault here by choosing Evelyn Fields instead of the Attorney-General or Brodie’s parents.

The media release of the Attorney-General (not yet available online) states that the ‘Take a stand against bullying’ campaign

“… will see information about bullying and Brodie’s Law distributed to more than 8,000 schools, workplaces and police stations across Victoria.”

When one considers the number of schools, workplaces and police stations in Victoria, 8,000 is not a lot.  Victoria Police has been very supportive of Brodie’s Law and the Panlock family and have produced a terrific Youtube video to explain the law.  It is far more effective than other attempts to explain the law. More…

Bullying Hansard provides hope, despair and extraordinary claims 3

On 12 July 2012, SafetyAtWorkBlog described Moira Rayner as the “stand out speaker at the public hearing into workplace bullying conducted in Melbourne Australia.  She was always on topic and spoke of her own experience of being accused of bullying.  The Hansard record of that hearing is now available online and deserves some analysis to illustrate Rayner’s points but to also to expand our understanding of workplace bullying and the Committee’s operation.

Moira Rayner

As a representative of the Law Institute of Victoria, Moira Rayner, questioned the existing definition of workplace bullying favoured by Australian OHS regulators and said that the definition requires case studies and examples of workplace bullying so that people understand the application of the definition in reality.  Many case studies are available in the bullying/OHS/HR literature but these are rarely communicated to community except by labour lawyers through bulletins or by media releases from OHS regulators that rarely gain attention beyond the media editors.

Rayner addressed the confusion in the workplace bullying definition from its reliance on “unreasonableness”:

“It seems to me that unreasonableness or the claimed reasonable purpose of the behaviour needs to be, again, spelled out. You hit on the crux of the matter, Madam Chair, when you say that it is More…

Australian employer group doesn’t “get” workplace bullying 4

Garry Brack is the head of the Australian Federation of Employers and Industries (AFEI), formerly known as Employers First which summarises the industrial philosophy of the organisation.  In the past he has stated that OHS laws are not necessary but this week he has upset the parents of Brodie Panlock by emphasising a failed love affair between Brodie and a work colleague and downplaying the  instances of abuse and bullying that drove Brodie Panlock to jump to her death.

The comments on the ABC Lateline program echo his comments at the public hearing in Sydney of the Parliamentary Inquiry into Workplace Bullying. (The Hansard of his presentation is not yet available online although the AFEI submission to the inquiry is)  Brack’s position is difficult to understand as the Inquiry submission and his words at the hearing display a poor understanding of how other organisations and experts (and Brodie’s parents) see workplace bullying.

The AFEI submission says

“What concerns employers is the breadth of these [bullying] definitions which allow a limitless range of actions and behaviour to be construed as bullying by workers – in all jurisdictions. This is where the regulatory difficulty lies. It is not that there are differences in regulatory requirements but that compliance is impossible to achieve. This is because the concept of workplace bullying, as viewed by regulators, is not confined to recklessness, intimidation, aggressive or violent acts, threatening actions or behaviour, verbal abuse or an actual risk to health and safety. It may be anything from a customer demanding faster service or just complaining (even over the phone) to setting deadlines or changing work hours.”

There are several nonsensical statements here.  The Parliamentary Inquiry is not an investigation of regulations, it is an inquiry into workplace bullying.   More…