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Outcome of Federal inquiry into workplace bullying

The Federal Government’s recent report on bullying in the workplace has helped to highlight this serious issue, but what changes will come of it?

A recent survey by employment screening solution provider WorkPro found that one in four people have been bullied or discriminated against in the last two years. With figures like these being released, the Federal Government’s report on the issue couldn’t have come at a more timely moment.

Entitled Workplace bullying: We just want it to stop, the authors of the report, the Standing Committee on Education and Employment, made a series of 23 recommendations including measures that would ensure that victims of bullying would have right of recourse through an adjudicative process. Other recommendations also included encouraging the Commonwealth Government to ensure that state and territory governments enforce the criminal laws that prosecute workplace bullies.

Particular attention was drawn to SMEs with one of the recommendations, which stated, “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.”

Manager of WorkPro, Tania Evans, noted that, “The national inquiry into bullying in the workplace couldn’t come sooner. The existing regulatory frameworks and workplace practices are not leading to genuine change in the workplace. And a year on from the Victorian Government’s amendment to the Crime Act to include workplace bullying, these results indicate bullying is at the same level as it was back in 2008.”

Kevin Jones, OHS Consultant, Freelance Writer and Editor of Safety at Work blog, agreed that the federal report was well timed. “I think the Parliamentary Inquiry was important and has achieved many positive recommendations given the very limited time allocated to it. The test of its success comes from the Federal Government’s response to the recommendations and the timeline provided for implementation. The Workplace Relations Minister has acted fairly quickly on asbestos risks. In many ways addressing workplace bullying is a greater challenge and requires more detailed consideration.”

Founder and chief executive officer of the Work Safety Hub, Robert O’Neill, agrees that the report, and most importantly the definitions it offers, have never been more timely. “I think OHS professionals will welcome the report, and particularly the committee’s recommendations to adopt a national definition and the formation of a national advisory to assist employers and employees alike to manage and understand this extremely complex psychological issue. Lay definitions often do not require frequent or persistent behaviours and are more likely to include unfair or unprofessional conduct which causes much debate.”

In response to the report, O’Neill believes the most important point now is for the recommendations to be adopted.  “I would like to see the adoption of the recommendations in full and full adoption of the current draft ‘Code of Practice: Managing the Risk of Workplace Bullying’.”

Jones also believed that attention does need to be paid to incidents of bullying in small business. “Workplace bullying can have just as devastating an effect on workers in small businesses as it can in large but, perhaps, it is easier to counter or address because of the simpler organisational structure, if suitable awareness and professional assistance is available. One needs to remember that one of the worst cases of workplace bullying and one that led to a young woman’s suicide occurred in a small café in Hawthorn. The Café Vamp case should be a case study for any small business that does not address bullying as soon as it occurs.”

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Rhiannon Sawyer

Rhiannon Sawyer

[NB: Rhiannon Sawyer no longer works for Dynamic Business]. Rhiannon Sawyer is the editor for Dynamic Business online. She also looks after online content for Dynamic Export. She loves writing business profiles and is fascinated by the growing world of homegrown online businesses and how so many people can make money in their pyjamas.

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