Most of the workplace bullying attention in Australia in recent years has focussed on the white-collar industries and the relationship to stress, workload, harassment and policies for respect. A case reported in the The Age newspaper on 29 April 2010 about bullying in a door frame company is reflective of apprentice bullying cases of over a decade ago but also illustrates the potential complexity of this workplace hazard.
Other issues raised in the article about on the Sunbury company include
- the misuse of nailguns
- pay issues
- throwing pieces of wood at workers
- ventilation of the work environment
- the absence of basic safety equipment
- union membership.
There is also mention of industrial relations issues involving a possible enterprise bargain negotiation.
The company, Sunbury Wall Frames & Trusses, is being represented by the employer association, Victorian Employers Chamber of Commerce & Industry.
Police have been notified of the bullying allegations and suggested that the bullying victim, 21-year-old Dean Hutchinson, contact the union.
There is the potential of an escalating dispute between the union and the employer associations. There are overlapping issues of industrial relations and occupational safety. The national agency, Fair Work Australia, is involved as is the state OHS regulator, WorkSafe Victoria.
This combination of conflicting and complementary investigations and actions is often the reality in cases involving, principally, psychosocial hazards. It is one of the reasons why bullying investigations and prosecutions take so long for OHS regulators to process. It is also one of the reasons why there are few “winners” in these cases.
More importantly, it is a reason why a safe workplace culture needs to be established early in a company’s operation and actively maintained.