Public hearings into Workplace Bullying to commence in Australia

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Next week Australia holds public hearings into the issue of workplace bullying. Currently the House Standing Committee on Education and Employment has not yet made any submissions publicly available which handicaps the value of the public hearings for observers but the Trade Unions have released their submissions.  Generally, the suggestions for control measures are progressive but the submissions also indicate the extent of the challenge in “controlling” workplace bullying and some of the challenges facing this inquiry.

The ACTU claims that workplace bullying was given national prominence following a survey of union members in 2000 but that survey is not representative of the broader Australian community and should be treated with caution.  The ACTU submission seeks support for its survey results from more authoritative sources such as Safe Work Australia and the Productivity Commission.  But neither of these sources indicates workplace bullying to be as big an issue as the ACTU claims.

Safe Work Australia’s figures, quoted by the ACTU , say that in

“In 2007/08, 26% of accepted workers compensation claims for mental stress in Australia resulted in 26 or more weeks off work.”

The significance in this quote is that bullying is not mentioned and if one accepts that bullying is a subset of mental stress and psychosocial hazards, bullying should be only a fraction of the 26% figure.  It is also the case that it is common for victims of bullying to eliminate the hazard through resignation rather than lodge workers’ compensation claims.  So one metric may indicate a low bullying rate but another indicates a “hidden” rate.  Accurate measurement, the accumulation of evidence, is a major problem in any study of workplace bullying and is a major challenge for this Parliamentary Inquiry. Continue reading “Public hearings into Workplace Bullying to commence in Australia”

Brodie’s Law not being applied. Perhaps a broader context is needed.

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Workplace bullying is a hazard that must be recognized, addressed and punished, but above all prevented. “Brodie’s Law” was always going to be a part of this challenge but never the solution.

Today’s Age newspaper bemoans the fact that “Brodie’s Law” has not been applied since its introduction 12 months ago.  This is not surprising and the article provides some clues to why.

The application of this law seems now to be mainly intended for the Victorian Police force and, as with any police force, there are a great many items on their agenda of which workplace bullying is only one.

Policing and harm prevention

It can also be asked why the Victorian Police force is policing a workplace issue?  Workplace safety is principally the responsibility of the employer or, in the new language, person conducting a business or undertaking.  The bullies and employer involved in the bullying of Brodie Panlock were prosecuted under occupational health and safety law, not the Crimes Act. Continue reading “Brodie’s Law not being applied. Perhaps a broader context is needed.”

Workplace bullying hits the national agenda in Australia

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On Saturday morning, May 26 2012, the Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and her Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten, announced an inquiry into workplace bullying to be undertaken by the House Standing Committee on Education and Employment and to report to Parliament in November 2012.

This announcement seems to be another that is buried or overtaken by current political events.   The Australian Broadcasting Corporation mentioned workplace bullying as a “silent epidemic”.  There is a strong risk that the politicians are overstating the workplace bullying case.  WorkSafe Victoria receives thousands of enquiries about workplace bullying but only a portion of them fit the workplace bullying definition and only a handful proceed to a prosecution.  The government needs to be careful that it is not operating to a perception of workplace bullying instead of the reality, even though the community outrage is genuinely felt.

The Age newspaper and AAP, basically printed an edited media release but the most significant statements have not been printed.  These are the comments by the Prime Minister, Minister Shorten and the parents of Brodie Panlock, Damian and Rae.  Below is a selection or statements from the doorstop transcript:

PM : “I’ve have had the opportunity to have a conversation with Damian and with Rae about their family experience and they will talk about that family experience themselves, but it led to the loss of their daughter Brodie. And they fought hard here in Victoria for Brodie’s law, to have a law that deals with serious bullying at work. Continue reading “Workplace bullying hits the national agenda in Australia”

Is OHS harmonisation a dead parrot or is it just pining?

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In The Australian newspaper on 3 April 2012, Judith Sloan presents a useful summary of the status of the OHS harmonisation process.  Many of her criticisms are valid but she has not realised that the new Work Health and Safety laws stopped being occupational health and safety laws some time ago.  It is easier to understand the proposed changes if one accepts that these laws have broadened beyond the workplace to operate more as public health and safety laws.

It is possible to accept Sloan’s assertion of the “demise”of OHS harmonisation but if seen in the light of an integrated public/workplace health and safety law, the harmonisation process may be a welcome beginning to a broader application of safety in public and occupational lives.

The acceptance of this interpretation provides very different comparisons and linkages.  For instance, the shopper tripping on a mat in the vegetable section of a supermarket was likely, in the past, to receive recompense through public liability insurance. Now it could equally be under OHS laws.  The regulation of potential legionella sources was through the Health Department, even though many of these are in workplaces and often affect workers first.  Should cooling towers have been assessed by hygienists or occupational hygienists?  Should these be managed under an employer’s OHS management system or through the facilities manager or landlord?
Continue reading “Is OHS harmonisation a dead parrot or is it just pining?”

The productivity debate in Australia misses the opportunities presented by wellbeing

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At the moment Australian business is campaigning on the need to increase productivity rates in Australian workplaces.  It, with the recent support of some State governments and ideological colleagues, is seeking to achieve this by weakening the recent changes to the industrial relations structure encapsulated in the Fair Work Act.  Fair Work Australiatrade unions and industry associations are primarily focussed on the industrial relations elements of this ideological fight over productivity.
Evidence of the potential productivity and economic benefits of improved occupational health and safety has been missing in the debate yet it is this linkage that Dame Carol Black has been talking about recently in Australia.  It seems there is a keen audience for her perspective in Australia as she will be visiting the country four times in 2012.
At a recent OHS conference in Melbourne one speaker said some OHS positions in the United States are being renamed Occupational Health Productivity in recognition of the importance of wellbeing  in the OHS roles.  Renaming “wellbeing” as “productivity” provides a different context to OHS activities and should better gain senior executive attention as it would be easier to see how this activity fits with traditional operational thinking. Continue reading “The productivity debate in Australia misses the opportunities presented by wellbeing”