New workplace bullying laws generate heated debate

Today Australia hosts a No2Bullying conference.  It is a timely conference as the debate on Australia’s changes to the Fair Work Act in relation to workplace bullying heats up.

Lawyer Josh Bornstein is particularly critical of the politicisation of the amendments and believes this increases the instability or remedies available to victims of workplace bullying by increasing pressure on under-resourced OHS regulators.

The amendments are unlikely to reduce the incidence of workplace bullying in Australia as they address post-incident circumstances.

As the new legislation is being passed through Parliament, the industrial relations, political and legal context will dominate the media, primarily because the OHS profession in Australia has no voice of influence.  But it is also because for decades the OHS voice has resided largely with the trade union movement that, although genuine in its worker safety concerns, must accommodate other industrial agendas.  There seems to be few if any who are arguing for safety for safety’s sake.

Workplace bullying definitions in the amendments and other guidance material need additional legal clarity but not necessarily moral clarity.  The responsibility to provide a safe and healthy work environment, and/or one without risks, exists regardless of the definition of workplace bullying applied.


Many of the risk factors associated with workplace bullying are well-known but are often seen as unchangeable business realities.  The calls for respect, dignity and increased humanity in workplaces and in management strategies are often ignored as is the emphasis on eliminating the hazard mentioned repeatedly by the very Minister who brought in the recent Fair Work Act changes, Bill Shorten.

Minister Shorten has acknowledged that, as with any legislative amendments, there are administrative and regulatory issues that require revision and resolution.  In the context of the Fair Work Act changes, Shorten has done well to address or acknowledge limitations and challenges.

Under these legislative amendments, workplace bullying will continue to exist.  It will be seen as an increasingly complex matter due to the difficulty of achieving resolution through the Fair Work Commission.  Workplace bullying will have the same damaging psychological effects on workers next year as it had last year, except that those who can affect change will be looking at the Fair Work Commission instead of at what they can do themselves to change their workplace cultures and their personnel manager practices.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia

One thought on “New workplace bullying laws generate heated debate”

  1. Interesting how bullying is one of those prominent OHS issues that seems to be regarded as an issue that is mostly about mitigation and reaction. A big mismatch with all other OHS issues.

    I noticed the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) frequently include references to a human resources mob (the CIPD) when recommending guides and the like on bullying. Got this guide via a library exchange thing:

    Highly recommended for it\’s focus on shifting workplace attitudes and environment that leads to bullying. Tasty references to survey responses that help define the issues the guides aims to give advice on. Also a bunch of handy f\’rinstances of strategies and bullying prevention policies.

    Col Finnie

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