What Comcare says about CSIRO – Now and Then

Posted on December 21, 2012. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Below is an investigation report available on the Comcare website in relation to a complaint lodged in 2009.  We have a fairly intimate knowledge of this particular report and thought we might share some of our insights, particularly in relation to the more recent revelations in the media in relation to the CSIRO’s toxic workplace culture.

2009 – Of particular note is that Comcare’s investigation back in 2009 effectively found that CSIRO had policies for all of these eventualities and determined that no further investigation was warranted.

2012 – Comcare after receiving a large number of complaints determines that those same policies were inadequate.  Comcare again declines to undertake a thorough investigation of the allegations.

Nothing has occurred over this period, despite Comcare being made aware of some serious allegations in relation to workplace health and safety breaches.  Does this mean that we will again wait until 2015 and the situation to become even more toxic before Comcare determines that perhaps it is the people implementing those policies who are the real cause of the toxic workplace culture within the CSIRO?

It is quite obvious that the problem lies within the implementation of those policies and that a change of those policies will be unlikely to have any impact as far as the culture of workplace bullying, harassment and victimisation within the CSIRO is concerned!

CSIRO’s Insurance premium has more than trebbled over the past 12 months and has risen significantly each year over most of the previous years.  What is the damages bill likely to be if we let this problem continue until 2015 as the previous patterns suggest?

In both cases Comcare have failed to undertake a thorough investigation of the complaints.

In 2009, the appointed Comcare investigator failed to interview key witnesses and relied on the CSIRO’s assurance that it had policies in place to deal with those issues, despite findings supporting the complainants allegations.  Comcare also failed categorically to follow up on any of the additional areas of concern identified by the investigator in relation to the irregularities that were actually noted.

In 2012, Comcare has effectively rehashed an Improvement Notice issued to CSIRO earlier in the year in relation to a completely different complaint of bullying, despite stating publicly that they had undertaken a thorough investigation of the allegations made by 12 former and current employees.  Changing a few words on a document does not amount to a “thorough investigation” by any stretch of the imagination.

Comcare have also failed to provide information in relation as to how the matter was “thoroughly” investigated.

Comcare have also declined to provide a full, non-redacted copy of the latest Improvement Notice on the grounds that it might breach confidentiality by identifying individual complainants, all of whom are already known to us.  The entire section outlining the determined breaches of the WHS Act by CSIRO are curiously redacted from the document, meaning the breaches responsible for the issuing of the Improvement Notice have not be disclosed.

Our understanding is that all such Improvement Notices must be posted in full, in prominent locations throughout the workplace in order to satisfy ones obligations under the WHS Act and thus one can effectively walk into any CSIRO building and obtain a copy of the Improvement Notice, which by the way,  have still not been displayed according to our sources.

This appears suspiciously to be an attempt to prevent access to information which will effectively enter the public domain.

Come on Mr O’Connor and Mr Kibble.  A little transparency in your processes is surely not too much to ask, particularly as you are servants of the Australian public and ultimately accountable for your actions!

INFORMATION RELEASED TO APPLICANT – REQUEST FOR ACCESS TO INVESTIGATION REPORT INTO SAFETY EVENT 139032

Overview
In October 2009 Comcare received a written allegation of bullying/harassment made against CSIRO. The allegation raised a number of concerns for Comcare, namely:
a. CSIRO may have failed to respond adequately to complaint of bullying,
b. CSIRO may have failed to respond adequately to complaints of victimisation,
c. Other workplace health and safety issues involving CSIRO;
d. Inadequate case manager, and
e. Inadequate monitoring.

Findings of Fact
In relation to the concern that CSIRO may have failed to respond adequately to a complaint of bullying, the Comcare investigation found that:

a. CSIRO had a bullying and harassment policy, and a grievance policy, in existence at the time of the incident and, based on the evidence, all staff complied with the policies;
b. CSIRO had equity and diversity contacts, and health and safety representatives, available to staff;
c. There was no evidence that indicated a breach of section 16 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 1991 (the OHS Act); and
d. The respondent is no longer employed by the CSIRO and the lack of evidence made pursuing a section 21 breach of the OHS Act inappropriate.

In relation to the concern that CSIRO may have failed to respond adequately to complaints of victimisation, the Comcare investigation found that:

a. On the evidence presented, the complainant’s allegations fall outside the obligations of CSIRO and its employees under the OHS Act;
b. The investigator was presented with no evidence that indicated a breach of section 16 or of section 21 of the OHS Act; and
c. The complainant had not exhausted internal CSIRO policies for resolving grievances.

In relation to the concern that there may have been other workplace health and safety issues involving CSIRO, the Comcare investigation found that:

a. Although the CSIRO failed to report the complainant’s injury and allegations, there was no other evidence of non-compliance by CSIRO notification.
b. The complainant’s remaining allegations fell outside the regulation of the OHS Act and were referred to Comcare’s Claims Services Branch. The CSIRO had internal grievance procedures for managing complaints of this nature.
2. In relation to the concern that the case manager responsible for managing the complainant’s case was “inadequate” in that return-to-work plans, for example, appeared not to be completed promptly, the Comcare investigation found that:

a. This matter fell outside the regulation of the OHS Act.

In relation to the concern that there was “inadequate monitoring” of supervisory staff placements within CSIRO, in that an employee who had been the subject of a workplace grievance was returned to a supervisory position, despite the explicit recommendation in the investigation report that the employee be prohibited from supervising staff, and was subsequently given supervision of the subject complaint, the Comcare investigation found that:

a. The CSIRO had an internal grievance procedure for managing complaints of this nature. Further, the CSIRO had a number of health and safety representatives available to staff.

Conclusions
The Comcare investigation found that:
a. The CSIRO has significant policies surrounding workplace harassment, bullying and grievances and a Health and Safety Management Arrangement.
The organisation also has equity and diversity contacts and health and safety representatives.
b. Based on the evidence available, the complainant’s allegation of bullying and harassment was dealt with in accordance with CSIRO’s internal policies. The Comcare investigator found no indication of a breach of the OHS Act that warranted investigation.
c. The remaining allegations were either outside the OHS Act obligations of CSIRO staff, not exhausted internally within CSIRO policies, or forwarded to Comcare’s Claims Services Branch for further assessment.

Recommendations
Comcare recommended that:
a. Comcare does not commence a formal investigation into the allegations made by the complainant.
b. Comcare’s OHS Investigations Queensland Office coordinates a pro-active intervention with local CSIRO contacts to highlight the obligations under sections 16 and 21 of the OHS Act and providing CSIRO with guidance
information about bullying and harassment, and the role of Health and Safety Representatives

c. Comcare’s OHS Investigations Queensland Office coordinates a pro-active intervention with local CSIRO contacts to reinforce local knowledge of incident and accident notification, in particular psychosocial injuries and
incapacities notifiable under the OHS Act.
d. As part of recommendation b and c, OHS Investigations Queensland Office reminds local CSIRO management of their obligations to report incidents and accidents, in particular psychosocial injuries and incapacities notifiable under the OHS Act.
e. OHS Investigations Queensland Office for the complainant’s allegations to the appropriate contact within Comcare’s Claims Services Branch for further assessment in relation to claims management processes followed by CSIRO in this matter.
f. The complainant and other employees similarly affected be encouraged by CSIRO to continue to follow the organisation’s internal procedures for resolving grievances and, if appropriate, consult the designated Health and Safety Representative.

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