House of Representatives Committees

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Preliminary pages

Foreword

In workplaces across the country, tragically there are too many Australians being bullied at work. This problem is not exclusive to one jurisdiction, one industry, or one ‘type’ of worker. 

Described as a form of psychological violence, workplace bullying can result in significant damage to an individual’s health and wellbeing, and in extreme cases, can lead targets of bullying to suicide. Such behaviour can also undercut the productivity of an entire organisation, which incurs financial costs to employers and the national economy. Beyond the enormous personal and organisational costs, the Productivity Commission estimates that workplace bullying costs the Australian economy between $6 billion and $36 billion annually.

The Committee’s inquiry was announced against the backdrop of an ongoing, nation-wide harmonisation process of work health and safety legislation, the primary area of regulation of the risks of bullying at work. Since the Committee adopted this report in late October 2012, the South Australian Parliament passed model work health and safety legislation on 1 November 2012. Harmonised work health and safety laws have now been adopted in all jurisdictions, with the exceptions of Victoria and Western Australia.

In addition to harmonisation efforts, governments, unions and industry groups are collaborating to develop a nationally consistent Code of Practice on workplace bullying. The purpose of the Code is to provide practical guidance to workers and employers to tackle immediate concerns, as well as to assist them to achieve the goal of positive, functional and productive workplaces.

The Committee trusts that this report complements the ongoing efforts of the state and territory governments to harmonise work health and safety laws as well as the finalisation of the Code.

All too frequently the Committee heard about the regulatory ‘minefield’ that both individual workers and employers face when confronted with bullying at work. These challenges add layers of complexity to already difficult experiences.

Diverse and contrasting regulation complicates broad public understanding of these laws as well as the system which enforces their application. This is the reason why the Committee is calling for a new single national advisory service, to help workers and employers to identify what is and what is not bullying behaviour; to clarify the extent to which workplace bullying is dealt with by workplace health and safety legislation versus antidiscrimination law, industrial relations’ instruments, workers’ compensation schemes and, in some cases, criminal law; and to provide a range of options for resolving the problem.

Although the Committee heard that Australia’s approach to addressing workplace bullying, through a risk management rubric, is an example of international best practice, the Committee believes that there is real momentum in the Australian community to do more to prevent and manage bullying, as well as better support those workers who have been bullied.

On behalf of my colleagues, I wish to thank all those who contributed to this inquiry. We are especially grateful to the hundreds of individual participants who courageously shared their personal experiences of workplace bullying. Whether a written submission was made, or an oral statement provided in a closed session, these personal accounts were deeply moving and an important component of the evidence gathering process in every state and territory.

The title of this report stems from the repeated calls from these statements and submissions where the first and foremost call of individuals was a wish for the behaviour to just stop.

A key objective of the Committee’s inquiry was to enable individual Australians to come forward, tell their stories, and give some insight into the prevalence of workplace bullying. Excerpts of these powerful stories are included throughout the Committee’s report and pinpoint the acute need in the community for Australians to do more to eradicate bullying from the workplace.

Amanda Rishworth MP

Chair

Membership of the Committee

Chair

Ms Amanda Rishworth MP

 

Deputy Chair

Mr Rowan Ramsey MP

 

Members

Ms Karen Andrews MP

 

 

Mrs Yvette D’Ath MP

 

 

Ms Deborah O’Neill MP

 

 

Mr Mike Symon

 

 

Mr Alan Tudge MP

 

Committee Secretariat

Secretary

Dr Glenn Worthington

Inquiry Secretary

Ms Sara Edson

Senior Research Officer

Ms Lauren Wilson

Advisor

Mrs Stacey Tomley

Office Managers

Mr Daniel Miletic

 

Mrs Katrina Gillogly

Administrative Officer

Ms Emily Costelloe



Terms of reference

Workplace bullying can have a profound effect on all aspects of a person’s health as well as their work and family life. It also has significant flow-on effects for the community and the economy, with the Productivity Commission estimating the total cost of workplace bullying in Australia at between $6 billion and $36 billion annually.

The terms of reference for the inquiry will focus on:

List of abbreviations

ACCI

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry

ACT

Australian Capital Territory

ACTU

Australian Council of Trade Unions

AFEI

Australian Federation of Employers and Industries

AIER

Australian Institute of Employment Rights

AFP

Australian Federal Police

AHRC

Australian Human Rights Commission

AiG

Australian Industry Group

AMF

The Alannah and Madeline Foundation

APS

Australian Public Service

APSC

Australian Public Service Commission

ASU

Australian Services Union

AWB

Australian Workplace Barometer

CCIQ

Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland

CCIWA

Chamber of Commerce and Industry Western Australia

CCNT

Chamber of Commerce Northern Territory

CFMEU-MENDB

Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, Mining and Energy, Northern District Branch

COAG

Council of Australian Governments

CPSU

Community and Public Sector Union

CPSU-SPSFG

Community and Public Sector Union, State Public Services Federation Group

DCA

Diversity Council of Australia

DEEWR

Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations

DTC

Davidson Trahaire Corpsych

EASA

Employee Assistance Service Australia

ELC

Employment Law Centre of Western Australia

EOCWA

Equal Opportunity Commission of Western Australia

HR

Human resources

IEUA

Independent Education Union of Australia

ILO

International Labour Organisation

KPI

Key performance indicator

MBA

Master Builders Association

MEA

Master Electricians Australia

NNWWC

National Network of Working Women Centres

NTIBN

Northern Territory Indigenous Business Network

NTWWC

Northern Territory Working Women’s Centre

PC

Productivity Commission

PCBU

Person conducting a business or undertaking

RCT Solicitors

Ryan Carlisle Thomas Solicitors

SJ&A

Sally Jetson and Associates

SME

Small and medium-sized enterprises

UMFA

United Mineworkers’ Federation of Australia

VACC

Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce

VTHC

Victorian Trades Hall Council

WCR

Workplace Conflict Resolution

WHS

Work health and safety


List of recommendations

1 Workplace bullying: we just want it to stop

Recommendation 1

The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government promote national adoption of the following definition: workplace bullying is repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers, that creates a risk to health and safety.

Recommendation 2

The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government develop a national advisory service that provides practical and operational advice on what does and does not constitute workplace bullying, and offers self-assessment and guidance materials to workers and employers to determine whether behaviour meets the workplace bullying definition established in Recommendation 1.

2 Legislative and regulatory frameworks

Recommendation 3

The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government, through Safe Work Australia urgently progress the draft Code of Practice: Managing the Risk of Workplace Bullying to a final version and that members of Safe Work Australia adopt the Code in all jurisdictions.

Recommendation 4

The Committee recommends that Safe Work Australia work with all jurisdictions to actively promote and implement the Code of Practice and ensure it is embedded in workplaces.

Recommendation 5

The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government seek agreement through Safe Work Australia for the development and implementation of model Work Health and Safety Regulations that capture the minimum requirements for managing the risks of workplace bullying, applicable to all workplaces, as currently established in the draft Code of Practice: Managing the Risk of Workplace Bullying.

3 From legislation to implementation

Recommendation 6

The Committee recommends that Safe Work Australia develop advice materials for employers that provide guidance on how to maintain the confidentiality of parties when responding to reports of workplace bullying, whilst also enabling the response to be transparent, similar to the risk management responses of other work health and safety hazards.

Recommendation 7

The Committee recommends that the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations commence a feasibility study of the Commonwealth Government providing an independent investigation referral service, and include consultation of the relevant stakeholders when conducting that study.

Recommendation 8

The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government:

Recommendation 9

The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government, through Safe Work Australia, develop advice materials for employers that detail appropriate responses to and outcomes for reports of workplace bullying.

4 Workplace cultures

Recommendation 10

The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government, through the Centre of Workplace Leadership and in conjunction with industry and employer groups, work to promote the economic benefits of positive working environments that are free from workplace bullying.

5 Enhancing tools for the prevention and resolution of workplace bullying

Recommendation 11

The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government, in consultation with stakeholders, establish a new national service to provide advice, assistance and resolution services to employers and workers. Its activities should include:

Recommendation 12

The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government, through Safe Work Australia, develop an accredited training program for managers and health and safety representatives to equip them to deal with workplace bullying matters.

Recommendation 13

The Committee recommends that the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations develop a trial mediation service for resolution of conflicts where there is a risk of bullying arising out of poor workplace behaviour, prioritising small and medium enterprises, and where employers and workers jointly request the use of the service in an effort to resolve the matter.

Recommendation 14

The Committee recommends the Commonwealth Government work with its state and territory counterparts to develop better cross-agency protocols in respect of workplace bullying, to allow for better information-sharing, cross-jurisdictional advice and complaint referrals across the following areas of regulation:

Recommendation 15

The Committee recommends that the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations consider implementing, in conjunction with stakeholders, a voluntary national accreditation system to recognise and award employers who achieve best practice and meet defined standards of psychosocial health and safety.

Recommendation 16

The Committee recommends that the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations work with state and territory counterparts to specifically recognise good practice in workplace psychosocial health and safety through instituting annual employer awards in all jurisdictions throughout Australia.

Recommendation 17

The Committee recommends that the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations commission research into the prevalence and long-term trends of workplace bullying in Australia using the definition provided in Recommendation 1.

Recommendation 18

The Committee recommends that Safe Work Australia issues an annual national statement which updates any emerging trends of its collated data from each of the state and territory regulators, and the Commonwealth, with respect to psychosocial health and safety generally and workplace bullying specifically.

Recommendation 19

The Committee recommends that the Minister for Youth and the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations work with their state and territory counterparts to develop targeted initiatives for young Australians undertaking the transition from school to work, about their rights and responsibilities at work.

6 Enforcement and remedies

Recommendation 20

The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government, through Safe Work Australia, develop a national accredited training program for all work health and safety inspectors that equips inspectors to identify and address instances of workplace bullying.

Recommendation 21

The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government seek agreement from the work health and safety regulators of each jurisdiction through the Safe Work Australia process, for the development and endorsement of a uniform national approach to compliance and enforcement policy for preventing and responding to workplace bullying matters.

Recommendation 22

The Committee recommends that, through the Standing Council on Law and Justice, the Commonwealth Government:

Recommendation 23

The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government implement arrangements that would allow an individual right of recourse for people who are targeted by workplace bullying to seek remedies through an adjudicative process.

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