Bullying has many causes and too many avenues of appeal

On 18 October 2011, there was a brief discussion on workplace bullying in the ACT Legislative Assembly of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).  The question to Chief Minister Katy Gallagher, stemmed, ostensibly, from a recent WorkSafe ACT assessment of Canberra restaurants and food retailers.  The assessment identified that:

“… only 66 per cent of food outlets were compliant with workplace bullying regulations.”

Such a statement needs considerable explanation to be of use in safety management but it led to a further question from Greens MP Meredith Hunter, one which indicates the confused status of workplace bullying control options.

“Minister, what consideration has the ACT government given to bullying as a ground for discrimination under the ACT’s Discrimination Act, which would give complainants and respondents to bullying complaints access to the Human Rights Commission’s investigation and conciliation functions and clear remedies for victimisation of a person making a complaint?”

It is unreasonable to expect that a Code of Practice on workplace bullying drafted under OHS laws would have the capacity to control the hazard, or provide sufficient guidance, when there are other avenues for restitution that are far more involved, such as discrimination and human rights commissions and tribunals.

The causes and controls of workplace bullying extend far beyond the confines of the workplace, being wrapped in social and organisational cultures. Issuing a draft Australian  OHS code of practice on workplace bullying places unreasonable expectations on employers to control a hazard that has much broader origins.  There are similar unreasonable expectations on employers in the areas or stress, fatigue and mental health.

Worksafe Victoria has admitted that most of the calls to its helplines concerning workplace bullying do not fit the definition and are therefore not actionable.  But the calls do indicate that something is wrong in the workplace and with the relationships within that workplace.  Rejection from OHS regulators cause the complainants to look elsewhere for assistance and guidance on matters that are very real to them.  They look to discrimination and human rights options.

To address the causal factors of workplace bullying, Australia needs a coordinated approach that recognises the causes and streamlines the control options through a single agency or process.  It is a waste of everyone’s time to allow a process to continue that encourages people to shop around for satisfaction. Coordinate, plan and solve.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia

2 thoughts on “Bullying has many causes and too many avenues of appeal”

  1. Coordinate plan and solve. if only……………….
    The major issues for employees and injured workers is that many workplaces will not spend on safety. Employees are not encouraged enough to have input.
    Take as an example the new taxi driver who is supposedly well trained. Many drivers are unaware that their taxi is their work place. They are subjected to bullying by:
    a) owners of the taxis who demand certain amounts of money at all times not taking into consideration things like strikes by airlines or CHRISTMAS Holiday periods;
    b) the Victorian taxi Directorate who give them their accreditation based on the fact that they turn up with a \’\’passport\’\’ from the training organisation which claims they have completed a course. This course has proven to be inadequate;
    c) passengers who are inebriated;
    d) passengers who are annoyed because the driver took them to the wrong place (because he didnt know any better or because his english was so poor he didnt understand).

    In 2008 the TAC and WORKSAFE VICTORIA issued a 24 page document \’\’GUIDE TO SAFE WORK RELATED DRIVING\’\’. IT IS WELL WRITTEN AND PRESENTED AND VERY VALUABLE. Interestingly the VTD and DOT had no input into its contents.
    The VTD has been asked why they will not even have this booklet made available for drivers and owners to read let alone be placed into the course for consideration. They did not know about it and when they did find out about they decided to do nothing.
    Had the VTD themselves read the book they may understand the needs to plan, solve and coordinate because this book is invaluable.

    Maybe WORKSAFE ought to be challenging the DOT in court about the provision of unsafe workplaces they put drivers into because those drivers are so poorly trained. Pick up any newspaper and regularly we shall see reports of taxi clients being unhappy- this will continue to be so until drivers are made aware by proper education of their responsibilities and the DOT understands that unless they train drivers properly then a drivers welfare in his work place is always going to be in doubt.
    I recommend that the publication be made available as a matter of urgency to be read and understood nd that the VTD learn to communicate better and coordinate, paln and solve matters effecting driver safety.

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