Workplace Bullying petition is now online

In February 2010, an Australian Facebook Group has put together a petition to call for a thorough review into issues associated with workplace bullying.  The initiative stemmed from the successful prosecution of four men who contributed to the suicide of Brodie Panlock through their bullying behaviours.  The petition, subtitled “Petition For Criminal and Workplace Reform In Australia For Psychological Abuse”,  has now been prepared and is seeking support.

The crux of the petition is:

“Your petitioners ask that the Parliament:

  • Conduct a review by the Australian Law Reform Commission or the Productivity Commission or similar agency, of the effectiveness of all current (including criminal, anti-discrimination and OHS laws) and proposed legislation.
  • Conduct a review of international best practice legislative and other avenues of government response to the issue of psychological abuse;

Following these reviews:

  • New clearer and broader guidelines on what constitutes psychological abuse,
  • Law reforms to ensure psychological abuse is appropriately addressed including:
    • Amendments to criminal, anti-discrimination, OHS and other relevant laws;
    • Amendments to penalties and sentencing laws to enable mandatory counselling and rehabilitation programs to be ordered, with an option of incarceration made available in extreme cases.
    • Ensuring internet service providers have adequate powers to respond promptly and terminate the use of their services used to facilitate psychological abuse.

We are asking Parliament to propose to the States and Territories that they adopt legislation consistent with the new objectives.”

Any petition should be read through and questions asked before signing and, by and large, I am supportive of the petition.  However there are some points in the petition that may benefit from some further discussion.

The petition calls for a determination of legislative “effectiveness”.  This may have multiple meanings.  The context of the petition implies that effectiveness means a reduction in the number of people being injured or harmed at work.  The Government is likely to say that the OHS legislation from the 1980’s onwards has achieved this and will probably show figures to back it up.  Since 2002, there has been a National OHS Strategy with performance benchmarks due to be reached by 2010.  The achievement is doubtful but as there is no punishment for non-performance   –   ho hum.

The call for the Parliament to

“Conduct a review of international best practice legislative and other avenues of government response to the issue of psychological abuse”

has more legs to it and deserves very serious attention.  It does not mention bullying, it says “psychological abuse”.  This will need defining but has the potential to unify the disparate and, often, competing workplace elements of mental health, bullying, respect, dignity, harassment, discrimination, integrity of bureaucratic processes such as treatment of workers’ compensation recipients………   This could be a big social agenda, so big that the political system and the political will could not undertake such a review fairly and independently.

Royal Commissions are very expensive and only instigated when a government cannot avoid them but such a review as called on above would need to be conducted outside the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) or the Productivity Commission to achieve a result with social acceptance and social integrity.  Each of the bodies mentioned above have structures that may impede investigating an issue that, should it be done properly, could undermine the way they operate and the organisations they represent, in relation to the ALRC.

The petition may struggle because its application is so broad.  Although this has come about from an instance of workplace bullying, it is clear that the petition will relate also to school bullying and cyber-bullying, elements that were not a focus in the Coroner’s inquest into Brodie Panlock or in the prosecution of the workers at Cafe Vamp.  It may be the case that focusing on workplace bullying may have been a better strategy with a second phase of extending interventions to non-workplaces.

The Australian Government has been reviewing OHS laws in order to provide some national harmonisation. The discussion period has finished, submissions are closed and a draft Work Health and Safety Act is being finalised.  There are several comments in the submissions that may be useful in the petition campaign.

The submission by the Australian Nursing Federation stated:

“The ANF has particular concerns about psychosocial OHS hazards that historically have not received adequate protection under existing OHS legislation, and which have increased in recent years. The ANF is concerned that some of the provisions of the model Act will not address these issues adequately.”

The Australian Higher Education Industry Association said:

“The legislation should clarify whether a PIN [Provisional Improvement notice] can be issued in respect of process issues or psychosocial issues as well as for physical hazards. It is also unclear whether a PIN can be issued if the issue is already being dealt with under Workplace Relations legislation.”

In response to the question from Safe Work Australia:

“Q32. Should the model Act expressly protect persons from being coerced or induced to exercise their powers in a particular way?”

The Australian Consulting Engineers Association submitted that it

“… does not endorse any form of coercive, threatening or bullying behaviour and it is appropriate to have this included in the model Act.”

Alison Merridew said in her personal submission:

“OHS legislation should specifically refer to, and provide procedures and penalties for dealing with workplace bullying, as a significant threat to worker mental health.  Some public sector workplaces have “grievance” processes for addressing bullying which are not underpinned by legislation, and are in that respect inadequate.  The bullying procedure should include provision for the initial complaint to be considered by an independent person selected from outside the company or agency.”

Several Commissions for Children and Young People were very clear on their desires for the Work Health and Safety Act to deal with bullying.

“We consider that an improved focus on children and young people’s health and safety needs in the law will assist to reduce their risks in the workplace. It will enable an identification of the particular issues for children and young people and the development of measures appropriate to their needs. For example, workplace bullying, alongside injuries, have been found to be significant problems in the workplace for young people.”

The South Australian OHS Act was specifically referenced by the South Australian branch of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association:

“The Act does not include a specific section on Bullying and Harassment. Such a section is included South Australian legislation (at s55A) and has been found useful in this state as a mechanism to raise bullying and harassment concerns with employers”

The model Work health and safety Act is nearing completion and the draft contains no direct mention of psychosocial hazard or bullying, but nor should it.  These are matters that are best undertaken in regulations rather than the overarching Act.  But it does mean that considerable lobbying, campaigning and discussions on the psychosocial issues must be occurring now with the national and state OHS authorities.

The Act does allow for these matters to be addressed under OHS as the Act refers to

“…protecting workers and other persons against harm to their health, safety and welfare through the elimination or minimisation of risks arising from work….”
But this quote is only in the aims of the Act and must be read in its legislative context.

The Act also says

“…regard must be had to the principle that workers and other persons should be given the highest level of protection against harm to their health, safety and welfare from hazards and risks arising from work [or from specified types of substances or plant] as is reasonably practicable.”

The “reasonably practicable” qualification at the end is likely to be exploited by those breaching the legislation at ever possible turn and may impede justice.

There is hope, though, in that the Act provides the power to create regulations on

“Matters relating to prescribing standards relating to the use of or exposure to any physical, biological, chemical or psychological hazard.”

The petition is not the end of the process but part of a process that needs action on several fronts if true change on the issue of workplace bullying is to be effected.  It is important not to place to much hope on the petition.  Plenty of petitions are presented to Parliament only to be filed away for historical reference.

It is suggested that the lobbyists in the Facebook Group pick their targets well starting with those who acknowledged the workplace hazard in their submissions to the OHS harmonisation process.  Next would be the Australia Greens and Family First political parties followed closely by the Independent senator, Nick Xenophon.  Their support would get the issue onto the political agenda so that the major parties can see there is a community concern on the issue.

Even considering some of the issues listed above, SafetyAtWorkBlog would encourage all readers to read the petition and seriously consider supporting it.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia

9 thoughts on “Workplace Bullying petition is now online”

  1. The system is a joke, I was a nurse, reported a PCA for saying she wished three residents would die because they were no use in Decenber 2008, in January was accused of \”helping a resident to die with my own hands\” by the Director of Nursing with the General Manager sitting next to her. She stated to a workcover investigator she categorically denied using these words, the General Manager stated he did not her hear use these words. She was charged with making a false statement, pleads guilty to this and got a $1200 fine with no conviction recorded. I am fighting suicidal ideation every day and a case of workplace bullying with the person with no doubt about her guilt gets a smack on the hand with a feather. Truth in sentence, justice, fair play, great words for politicians to kick around at election time, try keeping nurses that actually care and residents safe from people like the one that was rewarded by the Christian ACF for lying from start to finish.

  2. The Irony of it all. As a victim of workplace bullying, I know understand how some are driven to \”end\” the pain and suffering. Now 9 months on I am still an emotional wreck. I am seeing a psychologist but the wounds are very deep. i put on my happy face when i have to just to survive each day. I am trying to access my super for financial hardship, which i add is a humiliating process just to get what is rightfully yours. Im sure they think im using it to go on a holiday or something!!! I looked in the super fund book and they say that they have the same values as the org I worked for \”empathy\”. Its funny, unfortunately for me the super fund and the org. that i worked in are two in the same. i am ashamed to be a catholic because as i said in my previous blog they are words on paper that mean nothing. They dont give a hoot whether i have qa roof over my head or not they just care that the millions are rolling in from the government depts that fund them. the stories i hear on a weekly basis shock me. the amount of people who are or have suffered at the hand of workplace bullies is sickening as well as what organisations willl do to cover up what their incompetent managers do!!!!!!!!! Dont let it happen to you, its not worth it but its not ok.
    Seek advice and act otherwise we will never eradicate these evil people. Yes , I do go about my daily life but I am emotionally screwed from this as it compromised everything I believed in and lived my life by. If there is a God, he would be mortified to think that they do this to people as it was done to them because i felt like i was nailed to the cross!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Im being bullyed at work via a nother staff member i really dont know how to handle it this women has carried on at me in front of other staff and hung the phone up in my ear rang me at home talks about me to other staff members and blames me for things i havent done im upset because ive only been in this job for six months and i dont want to rock the boat this women is a rude pig and this job i love what can i do

  4. I was a \’victim\’ od bullying, harressment and general nastiness from two fellow workers and the ceo last year. To long a story to get into but it re4sulted in my being sacked for gross misconduct!!! This CEO physically prevented me from leaving my office by blocking my escape/exit. I asked her 3 times to leave and three times she stomped her foot, wagged her finger at me and said she wouldnt leave, so I pushed past her…i got sacked, she got sympathy!!! This was 12 months ago, i still have horrific nightmares, cant sleep and feel like crap. I am reemployed elsewhere but got hit with a $6,000 tax bill because I went to Industrial relations and received a small payout, was forced to sell my block of land through fear of losing my house, and a $2000 centreling overpayment bill!!! i am worse of than ever. I dont think justice was served and I want to pursue it further…is this even possible?

  5. Hi everyone.

    The problem is real much so these days when employees\’ peak performance must be parallel to the organization\’s vision and mission. The risk of overdelegating , underdelegating and even failure to assign tasks to specific individuals should be addressed. HR should be more sensitive in this and upon recieving complaints or hearing such event happening should provide a platform publicly or individually to hear both sides of the coin. If proven that some amount of abuse or bullying has taken place , an independent inquiry must be set up. Independent body must be called in in order to have a fair opportunity to investigate , find solution , mitigate and advice the appropriate actions to end the abuse or bullying. The composition of the independent body must include a representative from the public sector , private sector , organization , human rights department and someone from legal background.
    This blog is a good platform for a start.
    Thanks and good luck.

  6. I was a victim of workplace bullying and felt forced to resign from my position of 8.5 years in an organisation funded by the Dept of Child Safety. There was no experienced HR person in our organisation and the whole thing was handled very poorly. No one understands what it is like unless they have been through it. 5 months later it still is as fresh as when it happened. I was also i felt a victim of posse bullying where others manipulated the truth to defend the person who was bullying me.

    I write because in the organisations policy and procedures it states that they do yearly performance appraisals and offer professional supervision. I had only one performance appraisal which was done in 08 in the 8.5 years i worked there. I also did not receive \”professional\” supervision which it states also in the policy and procedures. These are merely words that they obviously put in to satisfy funding bodies. I was sent to external supervision to \”fix\” the problem. The only thing with thaT was that whilst i was open to discussing any performance issues i may have had The problem lay far deeper in upper management and the BAD culture that has existed in this organisation for many years.

    The HR person contracted to investigate was not impartial and seemed to spend more time trying to prove my boss was a good person rather than focusing on me feeling bullied. Even disregarding a document which to me proved that the boss had \”personal\” issues with me. Most of the performance issues she raised with me were her own performance issues…funny that. All this started because i started to raise issues about the way staff were treating young people. also funny as i thought that was my \”duty of Care\”

    This has devastated not only me but my children and family and friends who now question faith in human rights and those who know me well or those who took the time to get to know me would no that i would not put in a complaint if i did not think i was being treated unjustly…..WHO WOULD TO RECEIVE THE TREATMENT YOU GET FROM DOING IT\”

    1. Deborah

      I am sorry that you had such an awful experience and I hope things improve.

      May I say in the context of occupational health and safety and human resources you raise an excellent point about the worthlessness of policies in some workplaces. OHS policies are raised for a number of reasons, some good, some not so good. Regardless of the reason these are pledges, vows and commitments that companies make to their employees and should be enforced. An unenforced policy is worth less than the paper it is written on. In fact an unenforced policy can do more harm than good by promoting a false sense of caring.

      It is rare that people applying for jobs give these matters any consideration as the primary concern is to get a job, but we all deserve GOOD jobs and we don\’t always get them. In the white collar professions there is such a thing as an \”employer of choice\” but I have not seen many companies promoting or pledging this in the blue collar sector.

      Thanks again for taking the time to read my blog and to comment.

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