There are two newspaper reports in Australia on 21 June 2012 about the Victorian Police Force that illustrate a fractious safety culture and a major organisational and ideological impediment to reducing workplace bullying.
The Australian article ” OPI concedes failure against force’s culture” (only available to subscribers) states that:
‘The Office of Police Integrity has conceded it and other corruption fighting measures have failed to root out the entrenched culture of reprisals and mateship in pockets of the Victoria Police that seriously harms the force….”
“The OPI says current law fails to deal with why whistleblowers are targeted. ‘‘The legislated protections against retaliation do not address the root cause of reprisal — a workplace culture of misguided loyalty,’’ it argues. “The protections are individualistic and short-term, tending to ‘look after’ victims and potential victims of reprisal rather than address why reprisal occurs.’’
“Despite the subsequent formation of the OPI and the beefing up of the Ombudsman’s powers, police still struggled to break free of the shackles of loyalty and the so-called brotherhood.’
The Age article, “A fifth of police bullied at work“, reports on a government survey circulated to 14,000 people.
‘The figures, provided to The Age, mean about 1250 of the 4200 police staff who completed the survey have seen bullying behaviour, while nearly 900 say they have been bullied.’ More…
Workplace bullying is a hazard that must be recognized, addressed and punished, but above all prevented. “Brodie’s Law” was always going to be a part of this challenge but never the solution.
Today’s Age newspaper bemoans the fact that “Brodie’s Law” has not been applied since its introduction 12 months ago. This is not surprising and the article provides some clues to why.
The application of this law seems now to be mainly intended for the Victorian Police force and, as with any police force, there are a great many items on their agenda of which workplace bullying is only one.
Policing and harm prevention
It can also be asked why the Victorian Police force is policing a workplace issue? Workplace safety is principally the responsibility of the employer or, in the new language, person conducting a business or undertaking. The bullies and employer involved in the bullying of Brodie Panlock were prosecuted under occupational health and safety law, not the Crimes Act. More…
On Saturday morning, May 26 2012, the Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and her Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten, announced an inquiry into workplace bullying to be undertaken by the House Standing Committee on Education and Employment and to report to Parliament in November 2012.
This announcement seems to be another that is buried or overtaken by current political events. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation mentioned workplace bullying as a “silent epidemic”. There is a strong risk that the politicians are overstating the workplace bullying case. WorkSafe Victoria receives thousands of enquiries about workplace bullying but only a portion of them fit the workplace bullying definition and only a handful proceed to a prosecution. The government needs to be careful that it is not operating to a perception of workplace bullying instead of the reality, even though the community outrage is genuinely felt.
The Age newspaper and AAP, basically printed an edited media release but the most significant statements have not been printed. These are the comments by the Prime Minister, Minister Shorten and the parents of Brodie Panlock, Damian and Rae. Below is a selection or statements from the doorstop transcript:
PM : “I’ve have had the opportunity to have a conversation with Damian and with Rae about their family experience and they will talk about that family experience themselves, but it led to the loss of their daughter Brodie. And they fought hard here in Victoria for Brodie’s law, to have a law that deals with serious bullying at work. More…
According to The Australian newspaper on 5 January 2012 the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) is extremely critical of Safe Work Australia’s draft Code of Practice on Workplace Bullying. The ACTU has said that the draft code has a “fundamental flaw”
“… the failure to address workplace bullying in the same framework as any other workplace hazard/risk.”
This is a significant challenge but without access to the ACTU submission on the draft code it is difficult to determine the exact context of this fundamental flaw.
Of more concern is the apparent move by the ACTU, according to The Australian, to have single instances of inappropriate behavior covered by the workplace bullying code. This is contrary to the bullying concept that only repeated instances of abuse should be considered bullying.
Regardless of this challenge to established definitions, it is very hard to see how such a situation could be enforced by either OHS representatives or OHS regulators. The regulators have struggled for years with the existing definition and could have no effective role in workplaces if the unions’ wishes were successful. More…
An article in the Weekend Australian newspaper and magazine (not available fully online) provides some statistics that raise serious questions about the level of bullying in workplaces in Australia, with particular focus on Victoria. Of the 2,080 complaints lodged with WorkSafe Victoria in 2010-11
“only eight were deemed serious enough to warrant possible prosecution.”
Yet the OHS regulator received 7,050 inquiries about bullying. There is clearly a problem in Victorian workplaces but it is not always bullying, as defined under OHS law. Something else is happening and it has been happening for some time.
As reported previously in SafetyAtWorkBlog, the issue of workplace relationships is broader than can be handled by one regulator under one law. There are human rights issues, mental health issues, harassment and potential suicides – a range of social issues that should have taken the prevention of “workplace bullying” out of the workplace sometime ago.
The newspaper article, by Richard Guilliatt, draws on several significant cases of proven workplace bullying beyond the more familiar case of Brodie Panlock. Christine Hodder’s suicide in 2005 following bullying in the New South Wales Ambulance Service generated a review of the organisation that found systemic bullying. Sixteen year old Alex Meikle committed suicide in 2008 after many workplace “pranks” that included being set on fire. More…
A recent article on workplace bullying by the CEO of Diversity Council Australia, Nareen Young, is a good introduction to the issue but, as with many other articles on the issue, the content requires careful consideration.
One statistical resource used on workplace bullying articles is the very important and influential March 2010 Productivity Commission (PC) report – Performance Benchmarking of Australian Business Regulation: Occupational Health & Safety. Predominantly, this report lumps together “harassment”, “occupational violence”, and “fatigue” with “workplace bullying” under the term “psychosocial hazards”. This means it is impossible to extrapolate data from any specific workplace issue in this category, however the PC report does devote some sections of Chapter 11 specifically to bullying, but even then the statistics are tricky.
Young’s article states that
“Estimates of its [bullying’s] prevalence in the workplace vary, but one study outlined in the Productivity More…
It has been known for some time that OHS regulators struggle with handling reports of workplace bullying. Investigation of these hazards requires new inspectorate skills and take considerable time. Investigations of bullying involve people and this is always more involved than inspecting a missing machine guard or assessing the operation of a forklift. However, in an article in The Sunday Age on 24 July 2011 WorkSafe Victoria provides some surprising statistics that show a new perspective on workplace bullying and a contrast to recent statistics from Comcare.
The most significant statistic is that, of the 6000 reports of workplace bullying within the last 12 months, only 600 warrant further investigation and, of those, around 60 generate a physical inspection of the workplace. These statistics may indicate a range of issues:
- OHS regulators require greater number of inspectors.
- Workplace bullying is being critically misunderstood by the community.
- Workers are confused about where to report their treatment and choose WorkSafe as the agency with the highest profile for workplace issues.
- Other workplace-related agencies and authorities, such as Fair Work Australia and the Australian Human Rights Commission, need to raise their profiles on this issue.
What is missing from the WorkSafe statistics above is the next level of intervention. What action is being taken by the inspector? Will prosecutions occur? Are improvement notices applied? There may be just as wide a gap between the 60 inspections and an appearance in court.
For readers’ interest searching for “bullying” on the Fair Work Australia site reveals no results however the Australian Human Rights Commission site results in several references – a clarification of violence, harassment and bullying (with links for further information) and a workplace bullying factsheet. More…
Caroline Norma of RMIT University responded to some questions about sex work and brothel safety put to her by SafetyAtWorkBlog in response to her recently published opinion piece. This article is a companion piece to an earlier SafetyAtWorkBlog article on sex work and safety.
SAWB: What action do you recommend that brothel owners should take, beyond the current legislative and licensing requirements, to ensure that only safe sex occurs on their premises?
CN: “Brothel owners are currently commissioning violence against women by operating prostitution businesses. Prostitution is inherently a practice of violence against women, and can’t be made ‘safe’ for women by any action by pimps. In fact, brothel owners have a financial conflict of interest with regards to ensuring the safety of women in their venues, because clients will pay more for unprotected sex acts, violent sex, body punishing sex acts like anal penetration, sex with younger women, etc.” More…
The occupational health and safety of sex workers is one of the most difficult areas to write about as the industry is politically and ideologically charged with matters of feminist ideology, human rights and sex trafficking, religious morality and NIMBY lobbying. In such an environment, it is important that the OHS needs of sex workers not be forgotten.
On 13 July 2011, The Age newspaper reported on the threat of legal action by one sex workers on a Victorian licensed brothel, Butterflys of Blackburn. The article raised many OHS issues for the brothel industry. In short, the article reports that a sex worker is suing the brothel because the brothel, allegedly, established an expectation that the sex workers would allow unprotected sex, sexual acts without a condom or other protection, an offence under Victorian law. This particular sex worker’s experience in Butterflys of Blackburn was that, when refusing unprotected sex to a client, the client assaulted her, attempted to rape her and threatened her with a gun.
The Age reports that the woman “has since been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, whiplash in her neck and a torn muscle in her shoulder.” The worker is already receiving workers’ compensation and is pursuing compensation for permanent impairment. Her plans for suing the brothel relate to the accusation that the brothel failed to provide a safe workplace. More…
Queensland’s Education and Industrial Relations Minister, Cameron Dick, has always been a strong critic of school bullying but now he has focussed on workplace bullying.
According to Minister Dick’s media release on 10 July 2011 the government is setting up a special reference group to examine workplace bullying. A spokesperson for the minister told SafetyAtWorkBlog that the membership of the reference group is unlikely to be finalised.
The Minister is quoted as saying.
“Queensland currently has existing laws to address workplace bullying and protect workers from harassment and the time is right to review these laws….I am establishing a workplace bullying reference group to look into the incidence of bullying and strategies to prevent bullying in Queensland workplaces.
The reference group will consist of senior worker and employer representatives, as well as legal and academic experts. More…