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Workplace Bullying

Fair Work Commission Guide to anti-Workplace Bullying
A worker may apply to the Fair Work Commission for an order to stop bullying at work from continuing. This right comes from the Fair Work Act 2009 (the Fair Work Act).

Download the Fair Work Commission Guide to anti-Workplace Bullying"

Qld report: Overloaded, burned out and bullied"
Working for Queensland: employee opinion survey finds public servants are overloaded, burned out and bullied. It seems that public sector workers everywhere are reporting the same impacts of the stresses associated with wage and budget constraints, job cuts and the pressure to do more with less in providing essential services to the public.
When a similar survey in NSW found a similar result the Public Service Commissioner chose to blame the survey method rather than address the problem.

Read the Courier Mail report, 18 December 2013 Qld report: Overloaded, burned out and bullied"

Read the Sydney Morning Herald report, 6 January 2014 Survey wording blamed for high result on bullying in NSW public service

Worker autonomy can reduce stress
A study of over 4000 managers and workers found that access to resources and the ability to adjust their work led to a finding that managers have better health outcomes compared to workers. Greater work flexibility and autonomy led to lower levels of burnout and stress.

“Work conditions were found to differ between the three hierarchical levels, mostly between subordinates and managers. Managers experienced fewer symptoms of burnout than subordinates. Furthermore, the association between work conditions and burnout differed for subordinates, first-line managers, and middle managers. Occupational health research needs to focus more on differences between hierarchical levels regarding work conditions and burnout.”

Source: "Investigating Work Conditions and Burnout at Three Hierarchical Levels" By Lundqvist, Daniel, and others. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine 55.10 (Oct 2013): 1157.

Parliamentary inquiry into WorkCover bullying
NSW Greens MP, David Shoebridge, has successfully called for a parliamentary inquiry into WorkCover's "systematic bullying and mistreatment of staff", following a scathing judgement of the regulator's treatment of a senior employee in an unfair dismissal dispute.
As reported earlier the NSW IRC found against WorkCover's investigation and dismissal of the employee, Wayne Butler, for alleged breaches of its conduct code - were "shabby", "devoid of any common sense or fairness", had the "characterisation of institutional bullying" and conveyed "an attitude of premeditation and witch hunt". The employee was ordered to be reinstated and paid back pay for period of his dismissal.
The dismissal occurred after WorkCover agreed to comply with all of the recommendations contained in a Price Waterhouse Coopers report, which found that two in five WorkCover employees believed they had been bullied or harassed at work.

“The deputy president of the NSW Industrial Relations Commission has described an investigation by WorkCover NSW into one of its own employees as little more than a ''witch-hunt'' and characteristic of ''institutional bullying''.
Read the Sydney Morning Herald report, 24 June 2013 "WorkCover investigation a 'witch hunt'"

Report from "Inquiry into Workplace Bullying"
On Monday 26 November 2012, the House Standing Committee on Education and Employment tabled its report on the inquiry into workplace bullying entitled: Workplace Bullying "We just want it to stop".

Download the report of the Commonwealth House Standing Committee on Education and Employment: "Inquiry into Workplace Bullying"

Workers Compensation changes fact sheets

WorkCover, 7 August 2012, workers compensation Fact Sheet for Workers

WorkCover, 7 August 2012, workers compensation Fact Sheet for Employers

Unions NSW "NSW for all", 16 July 2012, workers compensation Fact Sheet

Inquiry into Workplace Bullying
The Terms of Reference for the Inquiry include:

  • whether the existing regulatory frameworks provide a sufficient deterrent against workplace bullying;
  • the most appropriate ways of ensuring bullying culture or behaviours are not transferred from one workplace to another; and
  • possible improvements to the national evidence base on workplace bullying.

    Download the UnionsNSW submission to the Commonwealth House Standing Committee on Education and Employment "Inquiry into Workplace Bullying"

    WorkCover: Bullying prevention kit
    “The Bullying prevention kit has been developed to assist managers, workers and others to prevent bullying in the workplace.
    A reduction in workplace bullying reduces absenteeism and promotes workplace health and improves morale.
    The Bullying prevention kit consists of:

  • Bullying prevention improvement tool - a one page questionnaire that can be completed anonymously
  • six workplace guide sheets - to help complete the tool and assess the responses
  • six workplace advice sheets - to show how bullying prevention can be improved."
    Download the "Bullying prevention kit"

    Workers comp campaign to continue

  • Changes are retrospective,
  • Weekly payments are reduced,
  • Cover during travel is retained in a limited form,
  • There will be limits on lump sums for injury,
    According to the Unions NSW sponsored ‘’ web site "Premier O’Farrell told parliament that this is ‘just the first stage’."

    More details of the continuing campaign can be found at "NSW for all"
    Details of the changes from "UnionsNSW"
    Details of the changes from "WorkCover NSW"

    Thousands rally in cold and rain to save Workers Compensation
    “Thousands of workers bearing banners, flags and umbrellas are marching on parliament in Sydney to protest against proposed changes to the state's worker compensation scheme.”
    Read the Nine News report, 13 June 2012, "Workers rally in Sydney to preserve compo"

    Cuts to Workers Compensation
    “The NSW government's proposed cuts to workers' compensation is an attempt to push costs from the private sector to the public health and welfare system, a union argues.”
    Read the Nine News report, 25 May 2012 "Cuts to WorkCover a budgeting exercise"

    Read the Unions NSW media release, 21 May 2012 "Unions Launch Workers Comp TV Ads, Announce Rally"

    The paradox of performance pay
    "Performance pay has no place in the public service, whether for agency heads or APS-level staff." So says a former Secretary of three Commonwealth Departments, Allan Hawke.

    Read the Sydney Morning Herald opinion piece, 1 May 2012 "The paradox of performance pay".

    NSW Workers Compensation to be slashed
    "The O'Farrell government will take an axe to workers compensation, slashing lump-sum payments for the injured and removing long-term recipients of weekly benefits from the scheme after a set period."

    Read the Sydney Morning Herald article, 22 April 2012 "Injured workers face savage compo cut".

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

    Read the 'Safety at Work Blog' report, 3 April 2012 "Is OHS harmonisation a dead parrot or is it just pining?".

    Premier Barry O'Farrell to slash workers compensation payouts.
    "Workers compensation rights and payouts will be slashed to rein in a $4 billion WorkCover deficit and take the handbrake off bosses hiring staff."

    Read the Daily Telegraph report, 26 March 2012 "Premier Barry O'Farrell to slash workers compensation payouts".

    Safety profession needs to counter the influence of the red tape ideologues.
    "Australia’s safety profession has a considerable challenge over the next few years, one for which it seems to be poorly prepared. The challenge comes not from new occupational health and safety (OHS) laws or new hazards but from entrenched ideologies. As the country moves to an increasing political conservatism, safety needs to prove it is as important as other issues, such as productivity and job creation, by vying for political and corporate attention."

    Read the Safety at Work Blog report, 23 March 2012 "Safety profession needs to counter the influence of the red tape ideologues".

    Study shows worker fatigue epidemic.
    "Australian workers, especially parents, are suffering from an ''unrecognised epidemic'' of tiredness, a new study suggests.
    The paper also urges governments to cap the working week, including overtime, at 38 hours, to help avoid accidents caused by sleep deprivation."

    Read the Age newspaper report, 5 March 2012 "Sleeping giant: worker fatigue 'epidemic'".

    "WorkCover attempt to adjourn cases rebuffed".
    "The O'Farrell government introduced laws last month as part of the Commonwealth's agenda to harmonise occupational health and safety regulations around the country.... WorkCover is reviewing around 200 cases brought under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to see where they stand under the changes."

    NSW IRC refuses to adjourn WorkCover cases brought under old OH&S laws while the review is undertaken.
    "The president of the NSW Industrial Relations Commission has refused to adjourn nine WorkCover cases after it said it was unable to reveal why it was reviewing them."
    Read the Sydney Morning Herald report, 29 February 2012 "Court clash with WorkCover over blanket bid to delay cases".

    "Union angered by potential NSW compo cut".
    “Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU) said a deficit in the WorkCover scheme and the surprise departure of its chairman Greg McCarthy signalled bad news for workers.”

    “The Greens say the NSW government has a secret hit list of cuts to workers' compensation benefits to meet the $5 billion deficit.”

    UPDATE: NSW IRC refuses to adjourn WorkCover cases brought under old OH&S laws. Read the Sydney Morning Herald report, 29 February 2012 "Court clash with WorkCover over blanket bid to delay cases".

    Read the Nine MSN report, 19 February 2012 "Union angered by potential NSW compo cut".

    Click here to read answers put to the government as recorded in Hansard, 21-22 February 2012.

    Comcare denies union claim complainants' identities leaked.
    Australian Capital Territory
    "More industrial strife has broken out on the $363 million Cotter Dam Extension project, with the Commonwealth work safety authority accused of botching its investigation into safety on the site.
    But Comcare, which has been probing consistent reports of dangerous work practices at Cotter, denies allegations that it leaked to the job's bosses the names of workers who made complaints. Tensions between the union and the consortium building the dam, the Bulk Water Alliance, have been simmering since last year."

    Read the Canberra Times report, 1 Feb 2012, "Comcare denies union claim complainants' identities leaked"

    Modern workplaces have room for improvement.
    "In the latest management trend gaining momentum in Australia, the hierarchical power structure of the office is shaken up. But a caring and sharing management model had the potential to backfire, director of the Workplace Research Centre at the University of Sydney, John Buchanan, said. ''You hear a lot of managers talking about it but they don't have the capacity to deliver on it,'' Dr Buchanan said. ''So in fact the rhetoric doesn't match the reality for a lot of Australian workers.''Results from last year's Australia at Work study conducted by the Workplace Research Centre showed one in five did not trust their managers.

    The Secretary of Unions NSW, Mark Lennon, said a more collaborative approach between managers and staff had many benefits but companies could use it to exploit workers."
    The SMH, 27 November report is available, "The touchy-feely workplace"

    Worksafe Victoria accused of being unsafe.
    "It is alleged that a culture of bullying and harassment has reportedly arisen within WorkSafe Victoria, the very organisation currently campaigning for an increase in the reporting of workplace bullying. WorkSafe’s union says that it has handled at least 100 claims of bullying and harassment in the last 5 years, and has handled 20 this year.
    The Workplace Law report is available, scroll down this page to find the report.

    Australia releases official statistics into work-related injuries.
    "Data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in early November 2011 has revealed that 18.5% of people injured at work in 2009-10 received no OHS training prior to the incident."
    The blog report is available here
    The ABS media release is available here

    Victorian WorkSafe bullying culture alleged.
    Worker survey reveals that Victorian WorkSafe has bullying culture. "An investigation by The Age into WorkSafe has revealed a toxic environment at the watchdog, with staff complaining of being bullied by their bosses and a culture of fear."
    Community and Public Sector Union state secretary Karen Batt told the Age newspaper that "her complaints to WorkSafe chief executive Greg Tweedly and the WorkSafe board had gone unheeded, and she now wanted an inquiry into the agency's culture."
    See article below on NSW WorkCover bullying. "Rotating the flat tyres at WorkCover"

    Federal Work Health and Safety Bill 2011
    Second reading speeches by the Minister representing the Minister for Jobs and Workplace Relations, Simon Crean, introducing the Work Health and Safety Bill 2011 and Work Health and Safety (Transitional and Consequential Provisions) Bill 2011.
    Click here for the second reading speeches.
    The Bill is available here
    The Consequential Provisions Bill is available here
    The Explanatory Memoranda are available here
    and here

    Largest ever workers’ survey shows the modern workplace is increasing job stress and insecurity
    ACTU media release 6 September 2011. Australians in 2011 are under more pressure than ever before, working longer hours than they are paid for and increasingly having work invade their home life, totally shattering the myth that employees are to blame for the nation’s productivity, a new national survey of 42,000 workers has found.

    ACTU media release plus links to the full report: "Voices from working Australia"

    Legal aid lawyers buckle under work stress
    "A staff health survey within Legal Aid NSW has exposed high levels of stress, concerns about the bullying of criminal lawyers and found that workers compensation claims for its criminal solicitors are running at twice the national average." SMH 6 September 2011 No matter how many anti-bullying policies are signed off it is always up to union members to ensure a safe culture at work. See below the link to the latest public service bullying case and further down the recent WorkCover case.

    To read more: Legal aid lawyers buckle under work stress

    “Workplace hazards in safe hands”
    PS News reports that a series of Safe Work Australia studies (National Hazard Exposure Worker Surveillance Survey) has found a range of workplace hazards.
    “Mr Phillips (Chair of Safe Work Australia) said work-related musculoskeletal disorders were one of the eight priority occupational diseases for Australia and accounted for the largest proportion of occupational disease workers’ compensation claims in Australia.”
    To read more about what was reported click here
    To read the Safe Work Australia report click here

    Rotating the flat tires at WorkCover
    PSA members at WorkCover are in a unique situation: who can they go to with a complaint about OHS?
    Its a career-limiting move to complain about safety for WorkCover staff. There is a long history of bullying within WorkCover. Today the Sydney Morning Herald has broken the silence.

    The response of WorkCover's Minister, Michael Daley, has been to commission an Inquiry into bullying in one Unit at WorkCover. This Inquiry will be handled by the Dept of Premier and Cabinet.
    What is really needed is an Inquiry by the NSW Parliament into bullying across the whole of WorkCover. This will have far more chance of putting an end to bullying within the OHS safety regulator. The usual response of WorkCover management to any Industrial Relations or OHS problem is to rotate the flat tires and hope the problem goes away. Or bullying the complainant.
    The question for the PSA is: why doesn’t the union take an OHS prosecution against WorkCover for this bullying?

    On 1 January 2012 new model OHS laws will come into place around Australia. These new laws will not include the current right of NSW unions to take OHS prosecutions under the current NSW OHS Act.
    The PSA should prosecute WorkCover for bullying. There is ample evidence to do so, including successful Workers Compensation claims from PSA members who have been bullied. Why is the PSA waiting?
    To read more click here
    Or click here
    Or for the followup SMH article on 22 September 2010 here
    For the followup SMH article on 4 March 2011, Bullying report reveals 'toxic culture' at WorkCover

    Male victims of domestic violence need campaigns and services: new Western Australian report findings
    A groundbreaking report from Edith Cowan University (ECU) Perth has found that male victims of domestic violence can suffer from a unique form of legal/administrative abuse previously unidentified in research, as well as experiencing most of the same impacts as female victims. The Intimate Partner Abuse of Men report launched in Perth, June 2010, found that male victims of intimate partner abuse and their children suffer a range of consequences, such as psychological distress (including disorders such as depression and anxiety disorders), suicidal ideation, impaired self concept and loss of work.
    It found that male victims are often reluctant to disclose their experience of abuse or seek help because of their sometimes justified fears that they will not be believed, that they will not be assisted or will instead be blamed for the abuse. The study recommends that government-funded public campaigns be conducted to raise awareness of domestic violence against men; that consideration should be given to providing publicly-funded services specifically for male victims; and that workers in health and welfare fields should be provided with training to assist them to recognise and respond effectively to male victims of domestic violence. To read the report click here

    Performance Development Schemes
    When done properly Performance Feedback systems can be good for employees because they force supervisors to say how they will assist anyone who they think isn't doing well rather than focussing on punitive behaviour that does nothing to help the employee. In each agency the performance schemes have different names e.g. 'performance development', 'performance feedback', 'coaching and performance' etc. Many members express concern that managers may misuse Performance Management as a form of bullying. Click here to find out what you can do to turn performance feedback to your advantage.

    Bullies more likely to be a boss
    73% of people who say they have been bullied identify their boss as the culprit according to a new survey. Approxiately 40% of respondents said they had been bullied and just under half of the public sector workers surveyed said they had been bullied. The email survey of 2000 people identified activity from threats of dismissal unless an employee performed work outside their job description to more subtle things such as favouring one employee over another for perks and promotion. The Director of Talent2 who commissioned the survey said that generally speaking, good leaders don't need to bully".

    Meet the "powerpath"
    One in 10 Australian managers are deceitful, cold-hearted manipulators bent on attaining power for its own sake says Dr Glyn Brokensha. These managers tend to introduce meaningless reforms and endless reviews to cover up that they achieve very little.

    Protect us from rage
    It may not be bullying but agressive clients can be just as harmful to our health. A South Australian PSA survey of 600 government employees found a third had been threatened or abused while driving government cars, or their vehicles had been vandalised. The South Australian PSA is calling for the removal of government number plates on some cars, a bigger pool of vehicles for home visits and extra security for government buildings. Public servants in agencies such as the Housing Trust, Correctional Services Department, Health Department, SA Police, Education Department and Youth and Family Services often work alone in the field without phones or decent systems for dealing with violent situations. The murder of mental health chief Margaret Tobin in 2002 has focussed minds on the need for security when dealing with angry or mentally disturbed clients. Some staff have been forced to use taxis for home visits because of a shortage of vehicles, leaving staff "vulnerable with no means of escape" in violent situations.

    Is bullying a 'beat up'?
    Is bullying and its legal ramifications just a ‘ beat up ’ to keep workplace lawyers in their jobs, or are we facing some sort of bullying epidemic. Workplace Lawyers partner Jamie Robinson and solicitor Brett Todd survey the issue.

    Sex Harassment - HREOC Report 2004
    The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission has found that 41% of Australian women and 14% of men aged between 18 and 64 years have been sexually harassed. 28% of Australian women and 7% of Australian men have experienced it at work. Almost half of the harassers were co-workers of the target, with over a third of harassers a person in authority in the workplace in relation to the target. Of those harassed by someone in authority the harasser was more likely to be male than female. Female harassers appear more likely to harass co-workers than those in authority. Less than a third of the harassment was formally reported. Full text of the report can be found at the HREOC site.

    Guidance notes on Bullying and Violence - Victoria
    This booklet has been endorsed by the Victorian Trades Hall Council, the Victorian Employers' Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Australian Industry Group. Trades Hall Council views the document as a starting point but believes a code of practice is required.

    Guidance notes on Bullying and Violence - West Australia
    This booklet contains information on how to identify and deal with bullying.

    PSA Survey on Bullying
    Delegates in the Department of Education and Training (DET) ran a survey on bullying with a view to developing a Departmental policy on preventing and handling bullying and harassment. Check the PSA website for more information.

    Labor Council secretary John Robertson says unions will focus on bullying as a major area of concern for workers across a range of industries.

    "For the first time, the health and safety regulations include provisions for psychological hazards, such as bullying by managers or fellow workers," Robertson says.

    "Workplace safety representatives now have enhanced rights to raise safety issues and Labor Council will be encouraging them to target bullying."

    NSW Labor Council has produced new guidelines for dealing with workplace bullying including:
    - identifying workplace bullies
    - raising bullying with employers
    - model workplace bullying policies
    - and a workplace bullying checklist.

    These are available from the unionsafe website
    Union Safe

    State Government Initiatives

    WorkCover NSW
    The National Children's and Youth Law Centre (NCYLC) is conducting a project funded by the WorkCover NSW Injury Prevention, Education and Research Grants Scheme to address the problem of workplace bullying, particularly involving young trainees and apprentices. Links to a number of NSW WorkCover documents

    Queensland Taskforce on Bullying
    The Qld Government is trying to identify the extent of workplace bullying as well as strategies for increasing awareness of the problem and developing a whole of government response. Submissions to the Taskforce closed in 2001 but the discussion paper is a useful resource.

    Victorian Proposed Code of Practice
    In Victoria in the 2000/01 financial year, nearly 1100 WorkCover claims arose out of either harassment at work or exposure to workplace violence. WorkSafe developed a code of practice to help workplace parties address these problems.

    Information from the PSA

    The PSA runs courses for delegates and members on Dealing with Bullying in the Workplace, Occupational Health & Safety, and Women in the Union. The training can be done in paid time. The PSA also has policies on occupational violence. For more information talk to your delegate or ring the PSA on 9290 1555.

    Information from other unions

    Queensland Nurses

    NTEU Draft Policy

    NSW ASU Clerks

    HREOC Annual Report
    HREOC's Annual Reports show that discrimination and harassment is widespread in Australian workplaces.

    In one instance a complainant was employed as a labourer with an agricultural company. The complainant alleged that during his three months with the company he was treated less favourably and subjected to abuse because of his Aboriginal descent. He alleged that in front of other employees, the boss swore at him, made remarks about his skin colour when a black sheep came into sight, called him 'eight ball' and held him down and tried to write 'eight ball' on his head. The complainant also alleged that he was refused shift rotation while this was granted to non-Aboriginal employees. The complainant claimed that he resigned because of the alleged treatment.

    The complaint was resolved by conciliation with the respondent company agreeing to pay the complainant $1,500 compensation and re-employ him in a different location.
    More examples of complaints and their resolution

    Mental Health Association of NSW
    Many people think of bullying as persecuting or ganging up on individuals but most bullying is not so obvious.

    Resources on Bullying & Harassment

    The Office of Employment Equity (formerly ODEOPE) used to have a number of useful resources free of charge in its library. The library was abolished in June 2005. Some of its resources are now located in the Central Corporate Services Unit (Department of Commerce). These include:
    (1)Bullying and harassment: risk prevention guidelines for employers: a book by Anthea Lowe & Assoc 2001
    (2)Bullying: from backyard to Boardroom: a book by Paul McCarthy and others. Federation Press, 2001
    (3)Workplace bullying: what can be done to avoid victim traumatisation? Beyond Bullying News,

    Contact the Office of Employment Equity Librarian Tel: 02 92483528 Fax: 02 92483500

    We all lose to the office bully
    A recent case highlights the problem of workplace victimisation, which is now more widespread than many imagine, writes Grant Michelson in the Sydney Morning Herald.

    Show me similar stories

    Progressive PSA brings together rank and file trade union activists in the Public Service Association of New South Wales and the CPSU (SPSF Branch).

    We work for

    • improved and more equitable pay
    • greater job security
    • sustainable jobs in a sustainable environment
    • a democratic and strong union
  • Who are the bullies?
    Workplace bullies can be managers, supervisors, co-workers or a junior worker.

    What is bullying?
    Their behaviour intimidates, degrades or humiliates an employee sometimes in the presence of co-workers and clients. It can include verbal abuse, behaviour which is intended to punish, constant unreasonable criticism, put-downs and sarcasm, poorly managed conflicts of opinion or personality clashes. Workplace bullying may be subtle or obvious. It may be general or selective.

  • 25% of workers are aware of bullying.
  • 40% of stress claims are in some part due to bullying.
  • Bullying in NSW has cost the State economy almost $100 million in the last three years, July 2012 .

    Contact us at:

    Health & Safety

  • Contact us at: bullying [at]