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…
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)
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…
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…
There has been little movement on the assessment and management of manual handling risks in Australia during the period of OHS/WHS harmonisation. Just an hour or so ago, Work Health and Safety Queensland released a video that outlines its manual handling assessment program PErforM – Participative Ergonomics for Manual Tasks.
A PErforM manual for trainers seems to have been around since February 2012 but the new video should create fresh interest in the program that is supported by a new handbook.
Manual handling risk assessments are one of the most difficult tasks for business and safety people but they can also be a safety task that offers the greatest financial and worker rewards. This initiative is a relatively new look at an old OHS problem.
The Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research (ISCRR) has released a set of guidelines for the prevention of mental health problems at work. Such guidelines have been sorely required in Australia where workplace mental health problems have become an increasing problem for workers and organisations and workplace bullying dominates the policy landscape. It recommends the development of a mental health and wellbeing strategy that includes the following elements:
- “the development of a positive work environment that supports and encourages mental health
- balancing job demands with job control
- appropriately rewarding employees efforts
- creating a fair workplace
- provision of workplace supports
- effective management of performance issues
- provision of training to develop management and leadership skills
- supportive change management processes More…
In May 2013, Workcover Queensland supported the government’s intention to change the definition of worker to match that of the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). The definition re-emphasises the significance of the employer/employee relationship. Workplace health and safety laws through most of Australia have recently changed to remove the reliance on the employer/employee relationship with the intention of clarifying the lines of responsibility for preventing harm. The diversity between workers’ compensation and OHS definitions unnecessarily complicates the management of a worker’s health through the linear experience of employment.
The government believes such changes will reduce “red tape” but only in the narrow context of workers compensation. The Work Health and Safety Act expands the definition of worker but another piece of legislation in the same State restricts it. Inconsistencies of concepts are likely to lead to duplications, confusion and arguments that may generate as much unnecessary business and legal costs as the initiatives were intended to save. More…
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…
The corporate wellness advocates have been able to estimate the return-on-investment (ROI) for their programs but there has been little research on the return-on-prevention, until recently. In 2012 the International Social Security Association (ISSA) determined that, in microeconomic terms,
“…there are benefits resulting from investment in occupational safety and health… with the results offering a Return on Prevention [ROP] ratio of 2.2.”
This means that for every one dollar spent per employee per year the potential return is 2.2 dollars.
The report also found that OHS provides, amongst other benefits:
- Better corporate image
- Increased employee motivation and satisfaction, and
- Prevention of disruptions.
But why bother costing harm prevention when there is already a legislative requirement to provide safe and healthy workplaces? Such a question usually comes from those whose understanding of OHS is principally compliance and who believe compliance equals safety.
The calculation of ROP, in the ISSA report at least, counters the belief that safety is always a cost with no economic benefit to the company. A positive ROP provides an opportunity to actively participate in the economic debate over productivity and, in some countries, austerity.