The lower house (thanks, Rex) of the Australian Parliament has passed amendments to its industrial relations laws, the Fair Work Act, to allow for matters concerning workplace bullying to be heard in its Commission, once the laws pass the Senate.. But recent media and parliamentary discussion on this action seems to forgotten the welfare of the bullied workers.
Professor Andrew Stewart of the University of Adelaide is reported to have said that there is a risk that the Fair Work Commission will be “swamped” with bullying complaints and that a system of filtering should be applied. Such a mechanism is supported by Professor Ron McCallum who said in The Australian on 14 June 2013:
“I would agree with the Coalition that there should be some filtering mechanism because we don’t know how many complaints there are going to be,” he said. “There’s been wildly varying suggestions.
Safe Work Australia has released its latest draft code of practice for preventing and responding to workplace bullying for public comment. There are many useful and practical strategies in the draft code but workplace bullying is only a small element of the more sustainable strategy of developing a safe and respectful organisational culture.
The definition in the May 2013 draft code is a tidied up version of the September 2011 definition:
“…repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety.”
The lack of difference in these definitions is a real positive given the complaints, primarily, from the business community since 2011. The significance in both definitions is that there must be a direct relationship between the behaviours and health and safety risks. This could be substantially difficult to prove, particularly if , as in most cases, it is the recipient of the bullying who needs to prove this.
Consider, for a moment, that this code of practice is used for establishing preventative measures and not just used for disproving a court case, these definitions can help establish a benchmark for creating a safe organisational culture. More…
Several SafetyAtWorkBlog articles recently have had record readership statistics. One of particular note concerned gender issues in the workplace. On 9 June 2013, Marie-Claire Ross wrote about her experiences with gender bias in the workplace and, in particular, its existence in the safety profession.
This reminded me of two documents I recently read about gender and safety. The April 2013 edition of the Australian Journal of Emergency Management (AJOEM)devoted an entire edition of the magazine to gender issues.This is a useful counterpoint to the SafetyAtWorkBlog article as emergency management remains a male-dominated culture.
This edition of AJOEM includes the following snippets.
While investigating communications, Dr Christine Owen’s research revealed
“…cultural challenges to team communication and specifically a masculinist culture (i.e. acting with high confidence and bravado).” More…
This week in Australia the conservative Liberal Party released its much-anticipated industrial relations policy. Most commentary is that the policy is thin but in terms of occupational health and safety, the Liberal Party is supportive of the changes made concerning workplace bullying. Sadly, the commentary is often lazy.
One example of a careless headline is in the Herald Sun newspaper for 11 May 2013, “$20 million Budget boost to stop workplace bullying“. The Australian Government’s changes to the Fair Work Act do not prevent bullying, it only provides further options for remedy. OHS is principally about preventing harm and the Fair Work Act changes do not help in this aim. More…
At many occupational health and safety seminars and conferences in Australia there is often an OHS professional in the audience who says that jail time is the only real and effective deterrent for those breaking safety laws, usually in the context of gross negligence, reckless endangerment or industrial manslaughter. The threat of imprisonment is indeed a deterrent for some people.
But sometimes there is an OHS professional who colours their call for imprisonment by suggesting that, once in prison, offenders should be harmed or even raped. An example appeared on an OHS discussion forum within the last week. The comment, on an issue of fall prevention, included this phrase:
“Only need to send a few for a short holiday with “Bubba” and some soap on a rope, to get the message across to the masses.”
This person is suggesting that the deprivation of liberty is insufficient punishment for an OHS offence and that the offender should also be raped. What does this say about the real values of a person whose profession is based on harm minimisation and the elimination of hazards?
If, as The Guardian newspaper says, the two main principles for jail are “in order to punish wrongdoers, and to remove the danger they would otherwise pose to the wider world”, where is the justification for abuse?
The “Bubba” comment above, and many similar comments I have heard over the years, may be an extension of the cynicism that many OHS professionals seem to acquire over their time in the profession. But it is also offensive and shows an approach to humanity that I do not share and that I believe has no place in the OHS profession, or anywhere, for that matter. It is lazy thinking, and these thoughts come from those who advise Australian businesses! It is a shameful situation.
Every year, around this time, the mainstream media reports on the findings of employee surveys of the Victorian public service. Each year the statistics on workplace bullying are featured. (The Age newspaper reported on the latest survey on 31 March 2013.) But the approach to an understanding of workplace bullying has changed over the last fifteen years or so. A brief look at the March 2001 Issues Paper on workplace bullying, released by the Victorian Workcover Authority (VWA), is useful to illustrate the degree of change but also the origin of some of the contemporary hazard control themes.
The VWA Issues Paper was always intended to lead to a formal Code of Practice but due to belligerence from various industry bodies, no code eventuated and Victoria had to make do with a guidance note. This effectively banished workplace bullying to a nice-to-manage rather than an essential element of modern management. Significantly, Safe Work Australia intends to release a model Code of Practice on workplace bullying shortly. Perhaps the employer associations’ attitudes have mellowed. Perhaps it is the decline of trade union influence since 2001.
The Issues Paper roughly defines workplace bullying as:
“…aggressive behaviour that intimidates, humiliates and/or undermines a person or group.” More…
Politicians are sufficiently media-savvy to release policies and information to gain the maximum exposure in the media cycle. For some reason, Australia’s Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten, missed the opportunity to have his changes on workplace bullying in the newspapers for 12 February 2013. The news cycle is also being dominated by the resignation of Pope Benedict. However Shorten’s response to the Parliamentary Inquiry into Workplace Bullying deserves detailed analysis.
Shorten is bringing the investigation of workplace bullying cases under the Fair Work Commission. There are likely to be complex consequences of this decision, a decision that is clearly the Minister’s as the Parliamentary Inquiry made no clear recommendation on the location of the “new national service”.
“The Committee did not receive evidence on where such a service [“a single, national service to provide advice to employers and workers alike on how to prevent, and respond to workplace bullying” 5.51, page 136] should be located. It might be best situated within an existing government agency or department such as Safe Work Australia, the Fair Work Ombudsman or the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. It may also be considered appropriate for the service to be an independent body that is funded by the Commonwealth. Consequently, the Committee does not have a clear recommendation as to where the new national service may sit.” (Section 5.58, page 138)
Clearly Shorten’s announcement could easily have been “Minister rejects independent body on workplace bullying”. The Minister should be asked about his reasons for not establishing an independent body into this important issue. More…
Seeking justice through the court system is everyone’s right but sometimes court action is more newsworthy than normal and sometimes the media is used in conjunction with legal actions. Either way, any court action, particularly on personal matters such as sexual harassment or workplace bullying will be a stressful activity. The workplace safety context of a recent political scandal in Australia involving the Speaker of the House of Representatives Peter Slipper, and an employee, James Ashby, have not been discussed. A summary of, or commentary on, the Ashby/Slipper scandal can be found HERE.
The judgement by Justice Steven Rares in the December 2012 legal proceedings of Ashby v Commonwealth of Australia (No 4)  FCA 1411, provides a salient lesson for those considering taking legal action over a work-related issue, such as sexual harassment, workplace bullying or other psychosocial matter.
Ashby-Slipper and OHS
The Ashby-Slipper sexual harassment proceedings have a legitimate OHS context, reminiscent of the 2009 political scandal involving Godwin Grech. Although occupational health and safety was not overtly stated by Justice Rares it is briefly discussed in the judgement. It is useful to consider these matters in a similar context to recent issues on workplace bullying. More…
Vaughan Bowie is an Australian academic who has chosen workplace violence as his major area of interest. Bowie came to general prominence earlier this century with several books and his contribution to the WorkcoverNSW guidance on workplace violence.
His research has taken him to look at “organisational violence” and in October 2012, he addressed the 3rd International Conference on Violence in Healthcare (the proceedings are available HERE) on the topic in a presentation called “Understanding organizational violence: The missing link in resolving workplace violence?”
Bowie writes, in the conference proceedings (Page 155), that
“Initially much of the workplace violence (WPV) prevention and management responses focused on criminal violence from outside organizations. At the same time there was also a growing concern about service user violence on staff especially in the human services area. A later stage of this development was a growing recognition of relational violence at work. This includes staff-on-staff violence and aggression, bullying, horizontal violence, sexual harassment and domestic violence.
Models based on these areas of WPV have been developed by the International Labor Organisation (ILO), the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Injury Prevention Research Center (IPRC) and the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal/OSHA) and other regulatory bodies. This presentation will show that the current models and responses based on these types of WPV are inadequate and ineffective because they largely ignore the fact that organizational culture and management style have a direct contributory effect on the types of violence experienced by employees, third parties, and service users. The findings demonstrate that what at first appears to be criminal, service user or relational violence at work may in fact be the outcome of a type of ‘upstream’ organizational violence trickling down in a toxic way triggering further violence.” (emphasis and links added) More…
In Australia, Parliamentary inquiries are usually required to provide the Parliament with a copy of their findings. In the last week of November 2012, the Chair of the Australia’s Parliamentary Inquiry into Workplace Bullying, Amanda Rishworth, presented its report which included a dissenting report from the Conservative (Liberal Party) committee members. On 28 November both Alan Tudge MP, one of the dissenting committee members, and Deborah O’Neill (Labor Party), spoke to the House of Representatives about the report. Their speeches say much on the issue of workplace bullying and the politics of workplace health and safety (WHS) in Australia.
Statistics and Costs
Tudge acknowledges the importance of preventing workplace bullying but provides an important fact to remember when reading the full report. According to Hansard, Tudge says
“The prevalence of workplace bullying is not known – there is no statistical data to assess exactly how prevalent it is. Regardless of the precise number, we know that it is too prevalent.” (emphasis added)
This may sound a little contradictory but it summarises a problem when investigating workplace bullying, there are no useful statistics on it. More…