Workplace Bullying Beat-Up

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Over the last few weeks the Australian print media has published several articles based on the expressions of concern by some business and employer associations about  Safe Work Australia’s code of practice on workplace bullying.  The latest article was in the Sunday Herald-Sun on 28 October 2012, “Bullying blueprint attacked” (not available in its original form online), which opens with the inflammatory paragraph:

“Workers in cushy jobs will be able to claim compo for being left idle, under national laws drawn up to combat bullying.”

The later online version of the article, by the same writer, Natasha Bita, has a much less aggressive title, “Plan to ban work pranks”, and a revised text.  The “new” opening paragraph says:

“Workers will be able to claim compensation if their boss does not provide them with enough work and office pranks would be banned under national laws to combat bullying.”

This has not stopped Senator Eric Abetz releasing a media statement which states that the workplace bullying code reads

“like something out of the socialist playbook whereby personal  responsibility is thrown out the window and everyone is bound in bubble wrap.”

Senator Abetz is known for these types of colourful statements but the question that should be asked is, why raise these concerns now? Continue reading “Workplace Bullying Beat-Up”

Victorian Minister claims “safest state in Australia”

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Victoria’s Minister for WorkCover, Assistant Treasurer Gordon Rich-Phillips, obviously felt obliged to get in early for the 2012 WorkSafe Week by stating, in a media release, that:

“Victoria is the safest state in Australia in which to work”

Rich-Phillips quotes a range of statistics based on a recent report by Safe Work Australia (SWA) – the Fourteenth Edition of the Comparative Performance Monitoring.  His claims may be correct but he is selective.  He mentions his State’s workers compensation claims performance:

“Victoria had nine serious injury and disease claims for every 1,000 employees, far fewer than the national average of 12.2 claims. It was also well ahead of the Northern Territory (11.2 claims), Western Australia (12), South Australia (12.3), Australian Capital Territory (13), New South Wales (13.7), Queensland (14.7) and Tasmania (15.6).”

However it is well-known that workers’ compensation statistics indicate performance of the workers’ compensation scheme and claims,  and not the real workplace injury rate.  The SWA report provides information on both safety performance and workers’ compensation claims.  The Minister extrapolates the performance of one element and applies it to the other.

The Comparative Performance Monitoring report also measures each State’s regulatory safety performance against the agreed National OHS Strategy.  Against the Injury and Musculoskeletal measure, again based on claims data, only South Australia exceeded the “36% improvement required to meet the long term target of a 40% improvement by 30 June 2012.”

Victoria came third, after New South Wales, with a 31% improvement rate.

Safe Work Australia stated that

” It is unlikely that Australia will meet the target.” (page 2)

The targets of the OHS National Strategy established in 2012 have been aspirational for some time and without any fear of sanction or reward for attainment, the worth of any National OHS Strategy is dubious.

SWA’s report also includes very positive national statistics on fatalities but still insists that:

“The volatility in this measure means that this improvement should be interpreted with caution and consistent improvement is still required to ensure the target is actually achieved.” (page 3)

This caution is missing from the statements of Gordon Rich-Phillips. Continue reading “Victorian Minister claims “safest state in Australia””

Inside Australian PM’s political problems is a nugget of workplace safety

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Prime Minister Gillard (centre) and others at Government House Canberra in March 2012

The Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has been under intense media pressure over an issue concerning her conduct as a lawyer around 17 years ago.

It involves legal work for unions, her personal relationship at the time with a union official who has been described as “dodgy” and of most relevance to this blog, workplace safety.

Missed in all the debate is that the workplace safety issue seems to support the assertions of many in the business and industry associations that OHS is frequently used by trade unions as an excuse for action in other areas.  These other areas are usually industrial relations but in this instance OHS was used to mask a unionist’s alleged misuse of member and industry funds. Continue reading “Inside Australian PM’s political problems is a nugget of workplace safety”

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”

Motivation needed from Prime Minister on OHS laws

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In July 2010, Prime Minister Julia Gillard mentioned OHS harmonisation in an election debate.  She said that OHS harmonisation was one of her achievements but less than two years later, at the Australian Council of Trade Union (ACTU) Congress, there is no mention of harmonisation in her speech.  The only mention of safety was in terms of truck drivers:

“And we’ve moved to protect the rights of cleaners.  We’ve moved to improve the laws for outworkers. We’ve moved so that a truck-driving cabin being a workplace […] can be a safer workplace, so that truck driver gets back home that evening.”

The Prime Minister audience was trade unionists and perhaps they need motivation and support and acknowledgement for their efforts in difficult economic and political times but there is a big move from harmonising the OHS laws across a country to determining a truck cabin as a workplace (which it has been for decades in some States).

The 2012 ACTU Congress included industrial manslaughter on its agenda.  Its OHS and Rehabilitation policy stated:

“Congress  affirms  that  industrial  manslaughter  should  be  an  offence  under occupational health and safety legislation or other legislation as most appropriate. The elements of the offence should be:  A worker dies in the course of employment or  at a place of work or is injured or contracts a disease, injury or illness in the course of employment and later dies;  The  conduct  (by  way  of  act  or  omission)  of  a  person  caused  the  death,  injury  or illness; and  The person was reckless or negligent about causing serious harm or death to the worker.”

Industrial manslaughter seems a poisoned political concept but it remains a potential motivator in Australia even though it is a reality in the UK.  Without motivation from the Prime Minister, other issues will fill the void.

Kevin Jones