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.