Archive for July, 2012
This article appeared on The Australian newpaper’s website today:
The original article can be viewed at:
CSIRO management caned over handling of bullying claims
- by: NICOLA BERKOVIC
- From: The Australian
- July 24, 2012 11:35AM
THE CSIRO has been accused of misleading Senate estimates in relation to its handling of a bullying claim by an award-winning scientist.
The federal workplace safety watchdog, Comcare, has censured senior CSIRO management for quoting selectively from a confidential draft report into bullying allegations – wrongly suggesting it had exonerated management when in fact it found breaches of its health and safety duties.
The revelations emerged as former CSIRO scientists submitted a dossier of 54 cases of alleged bullying of current and former staff to a parliamentary inquiry into workplace bullying.
The submission said bullying, harassment and victimisation of staff was widespread at the CSIRO but was routinely denied by senior management.
CSIRO spokesman Huw Morgan said the health and safety of its staff was paramount to the CSIRO. He said the CSIRO did not accept that its evidence to Senate estimates was misleading.
Comcare admonished CSIRO deputy chief executive Craig Roy for misleading Senate estimates when he testified that a draft report into bullying claims found no evidence of systemic deficiencies or a culture that promoted bullying.
The bullying claims were made by leading entomologist Sylwester Chyb, who was headhunted from Britain, but later alleged he was harassed, bullied and unlawfully terminated by the CSIRO.
In a letter to the CSIRO obtained by scientists under freedom of information laws, Comcare deputy chief executive Steve Kibble said: “(The) content quoted by CSIRO was not presented in context and failed to highlight to the Committee that (Comcare investigator Nigel) Docker’s draft report also contains preliminary findings that the CSIRO breached its occupational health and safety duties with respect to its handling of some of the allegations of bullying made by and against Dr Chyb.”
Mr Kibble demanded the CSIRO correct the Hansard record as soon as possible.
Former CSIRO project manager Andrew Hooley, who was made involuntarily redundant last year after nine years at the organisation, told The Australian bullying at the CSIRO was widespread.
Mr Hooley said this was contributing to a brain drain of scientists from the CSIRO.
“It’s basically considered an employer of last resort amongst the more gifted researchers,” he said. “A lot of them end up avoiding Australia and going overseas.”
Mr Hooley said he was effectively sidelined and subjected to public humiliation after raising concerns about possible procurement fraud.
He said as a health and safety representative at the CSIRO he had dealt with employees on suicide watch because of their treatment within in the organisation. Since leaving the CSIRO and helping to set up a website for victims of CSIRO bullying, he said he had become aware of up to 80 cases involving bullying of current and former CSIRO staff. “There’s a tendency to cover up the complaints and silence the complainants,” he said.
The submission by former scientists to the parliamentary inquiry into workplace bullying called for changes to crack down on the problem, including tougher national laws, an independent body to investigate workplace bullying claims and stronger whistleblower protections.
Ten ex-CSIRO employees have hired lawyers and written to Comcare demanding a formal investigation of CSIRO’s workplace practices and management culture.
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Bullying complaints must now go through the people who stand most accused of them
The CEO of CSIRO is alleged to have sent a bullying complaint directly to the person being complained about. Now staff at several CSIRO Divisions have been instructed that no further complaints of bullying must be sent to her directly.
In the most recent Senate Estimates, it came to light that a former CSIRO employee whose case was the subject of a Comcare investigation, Dr Sylwester Chyb, had emailed a complaint about workplace bullying directly to the CSIRO CEO, Megan Clark. Clark is said to have responded by forwarding his complaint to the very person he had complained about. Within 24 hours, that person formally responded to Chyb by informing him that his indefinite position at CSIRO was henceforth redundant and he would be retrenched. This allegedly occurred within 24 hours of the complaint to Clark.
It has now come to light that staff in several CSIRO Divisions have been told that all future requests to Clark should first be “cleared” by her deputies before they are sent to her. In emails, CSIRO staff have been warned that all requests to Megan Clark or her office, “need to be cleared” by the relevant Deputy Head (“Group Executive”) first.
“This directive stands in direct opposition to Clark’s very public statements that her ‘door is always open’ ”, said one CSIRO staff member, who requested anonymity. “It sends a powerful message: we dont want to hear your complaints of workplace bullying”.
Other scientists agreed. “The problem is that there is an endemic culture of workplace and management bullying at CSIRO. Directives like this are not going to tackle that, they will only entrench it and make it worse. ”
The directive is particularly concerning to staff given that it is the Deputy Heads of CSIRO who are, allegedly, the main culprits when it comes to workplace bullying. As far back as 2006, public complaints of workplace bullying were levelled by persons as eminent as Senator Kim Carr, the previous minister of Science, at Deputy Heads of CSIRO like Andrew Johnson.
An advocacy group, Victims of CSIRO, has similar concerns (http://victimsofcsiro.com). Group spokesman, Andrew Hooley, said: “This appears to be another poor attempt by Dr Clark to avoid her responsibility to the staff at CSIRO through plausible deniability. Her efforts in this regard became blatantly evident during her last appearance at Senate Estimates. Clark has no apparent interest in dealing with the culture of management bullying at CSIRO, she is only interested in creating a public impression that she is”.
“Clark’s door is theoretically open but, in practice, you have to get past the thugs guarding that door”. “Is CSIRO seriously contending that this will help clear up the shameful bullying situation that exists?” said Hooley. “In a healthy, normally-functioning organisation, the person to whom the correspondence is a addressed usually possesses the civility to respond in person to the communication, even if the response is drafted by some lacky!”.
Another scientist said: “I have serious concerns about CSIRO. Its commitment regarding workplace bullying appears to be focussed in the wrong direction – toward encouraging and entrenching it. What happens when a serious complaint involves a Group Executive or Senior Manager? Well, we know what happens …”Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
Response to Bullying Allegations an “Absolute Disgrace”
Comcare, the government regulator, has accused CSIRO CEO Megan Clark and Deputy CEO Craig Roy of falsely quoting from a confidential report to deliberately mislead the Australian Senate.
On 28 May 2012, under questioning in Senate Estimates, the Chief Executive Officer of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Dr Megan Clark denied knowledge of numerous bullying complaints within the organisation she leads. Her Deputy, Craig Roy, quoted from a confidential report issued by Commonwealth Regulator, Comcare, to suggest that its ‘headline’ finding was that CSIRO did not have a problem with systemic workplace bullying and harassment. Clark also stated that she was unaware of a bullying complaint against CSIRO issued to the Commonwealth Regulator, Comcare by 7 former employees.
However, a freedom of information request has now unearthed a scathing letter sent a few days later to CSIRO by Comcare. In the letter, Steve Kibble, the Deputy CEO of Comcare, chastises CSIRO for the breach of confidentiality and repudiates Roy’s quote to the Senate as being “out of context”. He goes on to state that the Comcare report had, in fact, found the very opposite of Roy’s assertions – CSIRO had engaged in multiple breaches of its legal obligations towards a bullied employee. Kibble goes on to demand that CSIRO issue a correction to Parliament “as soon as is practicable”.
The former CSIRO employee whose case was the subject of the Comcare report is Dr Sylwester Chyb, an internationally renowned entomologist recruited by CSIRO from Imperial College in London. Chyb launched legal action against CSIRO in early 2011, claiming that CSIRO management systematically bullied and intimidated him. He says that a bullying complaint he emailed directly to the CSIRO CEO, Megan Clark, was formally responded to within 24 hours by the very person he had complained about. Their response was to inform Chyb that his indefinite position at CSIRO was henceforth redundant and he would be immediately retrenched.
In response to the Comcare letter, Chyb said: “If the most senior executives of CSIRO display so little respect for the Commonwealth regulator and the Parliament and people of Australia, how much respect would they show to staff, like myself, at CSIRO? That is what scientists like me are up against.”
Other scientists who have complained of bullying agreed. “There is a deeply entrenched and systemic problem with management bullying across every division of CSIRO with which I have had contact”, said Dr Warwick Raverty, who retired from CSIRO in 2009. “Numerous former colleagues tell me that they have spoken with Megan Clark directly about the matter, but I am told nothing has been done or is being done”.
In 2009, Dr Clive Spash says he complained to Clark about attempts to censor a peer reviewed paper he had authored and that had been accepted for publication by a respected international journal. Spash alleges that Clark thereafter became complicit in and an active participant in some of the intimidatory behaviour that he then experienced. He resigned from CSIRO citing “extreme stress” and management bullying.
Another former employee, Mr Andrew Hooley says that he submitted a formal complaint to Comcare near the end of 2009 alleging numerous instances of bullying and many deficiencies in health and safety management at CSIRO. When approached by Comcare, CSIRO strenuously denied his allegations at the time. “It is difficult to believe that Dr Clark would not have been aware of this complaint”, says Hooley. He expects that the complaint will now become the subject of a Comcare review.
Hooley directly contacted Dr Clark on the 16th of March 2012 to communicate his experiences of bullying and victimisation. She referred the matter to Craig Roy who after a short discussion refused to communicate any further in relation to the matter.
On 31 January 2012, another former employee, Dr Gerry Swiegers met with Dr Clark, in the presence of an investigator from the Federal Department of Finance. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss CSIRO’s failure to investigate Swiegers’ internal complaints and allegations of commercial and criminal fraud which he claims was directed at investors in a CSIRO technology. Swiegers’ position at CSIRO was made redundant by the respondents to his complaint within months of his lodging the complaint.
Numerous other former employees are said to have publically raised complaints of bullying within the organisation over the past decade or more. A listing of some of those complaints has been published on the website of an advocacy group at http://victimsofcsiro.com.
The CSIRO Staff Association has raised the issue of bullying in its statement of claims during each of the past 3 Enterprise Bargaining periods.
According to another scientist who wished to remain anonymous, an initiative of Clark’s shortly after commencing her appointment as CEO of the CSIRO was the formation of a Psychological Health and Wellbeing Committee. Whilst numerous submissions about bullying were relayed to the committee little has been done and the initiative has stalled.
Clark’s response to the questions in the Senate is, frankly, disingenuous in the extreme and an absolute disgrace. For her to claim no knowledge of the many, many bullying complaints is, at best, pure fantasy and, at worst, a deliberate attempt by the CSIRO Executive to mislead the Parliament and people of AustraliaRead Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
A huge thanks to everyone who has contributed material towards our submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry into Workplace Bullying. It was a massive effort in putting the submission together but the information provided adds so much more depth to our submission.
Keep an eye on the blog site for further updates!
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