The House of Representative’s Education and Employment Committee recently released a report following an inquiry into workplace bullying in Australia. The inquiry received over 300 submissions from organisations including the ANF and its Branches, and by individuals who had experienced or witnessed bullying. The ANF’s submission was discussed in an article in this column in the August 2012 issue of the ANJ.
The Committee’s report outlines the experience of victims of workplace bullying and makes a number of recommendations to address the issue. One study referred to by the Committee found 6.8% of Australian workers had been bullied at work in the previous six months, but this was probably an underestimate of the true extent.
One of the difficulties faced by employees who are targets of workplace bullying is a range of laws are relevant including work health and safety law, criminal law, antidiscrimination law, industrial relations law and workers’ compensation law.
This results in overlap and gaps and in addition there is no express prohibition on workplace bullying in any Australian law. Further, there has been a lack of enforcement with no examples of psychological bullying (in contrast to physical bullying) being pursued in the courts.
To address this regulatory complexity, the Committee made the following recommendations:
• Establish a new national service to provide advice, assistance and resolution services to employers and employees (including those accused of bullying).
• A single national definition of workplace bullying be adopted, ie. repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers, that creates a risk to health and safety. This includes intentional and unintentional bullying.
• An individual right of recourse be established to seek remedies through an adjudicative process.
The committee recognised that, despite the various laws, bullying is primarily a work health and safety issue as it poses risks to the health and safety of those workers who are targeted. As such, it recommended the draft national Code of Practice on preventing bullying currently being developed by Safe Work Australia be urgently completed and promoted in workplaces. In a welcome development, the committee also recommended that regulations be developed. Unlike codes, the terms of regulations have to be complied with.
In relation to enforcement, the committee recommended a national training program for work health and safety inspectors be developed to assist them to identify and address workplace bullying.
The Committee’s report can be accessed at: www.aph.gov.au/parliamentary_business/committees/house_of_representatives_committees?url=ee/bullying/report.htm
Federal Industrial Officer