On 14 July 2015, Russell Kennedy lawyers published an article “10 better questions organisations should be asking about workplace bullying”. The article is a great example of the type of advice about workplace bullying that lawyers provide to companies. It is good advice but is limited by the legal process.
Here are my alternate, or complementary, 10 questions for an organisation to ask about workplace bullying, in no particular order:
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) commences its 2015 Congress this week. Each year around 800 trade union delegates meet to discuss changes to policies and to develop or refine strategies. This year the ACTU released its draft policies publicly prior to the Congress. These policies have a long and strong historical and industrial relations context. Occupational health and safety (OHS) is an important part of these policies and should spark discussions in the union movement and the OHS profession.
Early in the document, the ACTU states its “bargaining agenda” in which is included
“better work, life and family balance.” (page 7)
Curiously, the ACTU has chosen “better” rather than “safe”. Better is a more inclusive term but harder to define. Better for whom? Better could be better paid or more secure or safer.
Trade unionists often see OHS as being monitored and enforced through the mechanism of the Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) and would argue that OHS is throughout all the draft policies due to the HSR role but there are more workplaces in Australia without HSRs than with and it is worth considering the policies as independent from the HSR structure, if that is possible..
In 2012, SafetyAtWorkBlog reviewed the first edition of the Australian Master Work Health and Safety Guide. CCH Wolters Kluwer has released its second edition and, sadly, it repeats many of the criticisms in the 2012 review.
The title of Australian Master Work Health and Safety Guide (2nd ed) seems inaccurate if one considers a book with “master ” in its title to be a “masterwork”. This is not a masterwork and the publishers have emphasised to SafetyAtWorkBlog that the book was never intended to be. The book is intended to be a brief outline of the most important contemporary occupational health and safety (OHS) issues in Australia and to provide practical advice, checklists and templates. In fact, the word that should be focussed on in the title is “guide”.
The publishers advised that “master” is in the title to indicate it is part of its “Master Series“, a “brilliant” series described as
“Australia’s premium range of professional books, widely accepted as the leaders in their fields.”
SafetyAtWorkBlog looked at a couple of chapters to assess the quality of the content. As workplace bullying is such a contentious issue. the Bullying and Violence chapter was a focus. There were a surprising number of omissions in this chapter.
How can an OHS regulator get the management of its own staff so wrong?
In June 2014, a NSW Parliamentary inquiry released its final report into Allegations of bullying in WorkCover NSW, that State’s occupational health and safety (OHS) regulator. The report found that
“…Workcover has a significant organisational problem with bullying. This problem is a longstanding one and operates at a cultural level.” (page x)
The Committee Chairman Hon Fred Nile MLC, wrote that
“more effective leadership and governance is essential.” (page x)
Longstanding bullying problems? Problems with leadership and governance? Many companies and public sector organisations have had similar issues ambulances, police, fire services, research organisations, to name a few, and are working them through. What happened in New South Wales?
Anyone dealing with occupational health and safety (OHS), or in any profession, knows to be careful with one’s words in public. This is particularly so when one is dealing with mental health issues or claims of workplace bullying. This week Senator Eric Abetz, Australia’s Workplace Relations Minister, seems to have overstepped the mark by misrepresenting some Federal Court Orders as related to workplace bullying, when the Court made no such statement. This could simply be dismissed as political hyperbole in the heat of the moment but this was no off-the-cuff remark. He headlined his media release on 13 March 2014 as:
“Joe McDonald found guilty of workplace bullying – yet again. Bill Shorten must now act”.
According to Safe Work Australia, an organisation within Senator Abetz’s portfolio, workplace bullying is defined in the most recent national guide as
“repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety.” (page 2)
Nowhere in the Federal Court orders* is workplace bullying, or any other bullying, mentioned and the Federal Court has not found Joe McDonald guilty of workplace bullying. The best that can be said is that Joe McDonald has a history of intimidation on construction sites and that this has created tense relations between the workforce and employers (perhaps a confused safety culture) and generated delays in construction.
Does this all matter? Yes