Response to Senator Evans’ Radio 2CC interview
Minister Chris Evans has finally responded to requests from Canberra Radio 2CC’s Mike Welsh for an interview over bullying allegations haunting CSIRO.
Sadly, much like Dr Michael Borgas, President of the CSIRO Staff Association, in his interview with Mike Welsh on 5 December 2012, Minister Evans’ game plan was to consistently downplay and dismiss the true state of affairs at CSIRO.
Minister Evans did not accept there is a toxic workplace culture at CSIRO, he suggested that the suicide claims made by Victims of CSIRO are over-dramatised, that some complainants had pre-existing medical conditions and that many have been stressed by restructuring or discipline for misconduct. Minister Evans did not provide one shred of evidence to support these serious and demeaning statements, which we can only think were informed by a brief provided to him by senior CSIRO Public Relations staff, as independent research, including ComCare’s rulings, would have indicated otherwise. The minister’s blanket dismissals set him diagonally opposite the merits of his own cabinet’s recently concluded Parliamentary Inquiry into Workplace Bullying.
Suggesting that claims of suicidal CSIRO employees have been sensationalised is absolutely appalling. Victims of CSIRO are aware of at least 5 cases of current and former employees contemplating suicide as a result of mistreatment in CSIRO (this includes through providing direct support as former staff association representatives). It can be extremely difficult for individuals to admit being suicidal, so it is gravely disappointing that these individuals’ courage in speaking up for change has been so blithely dismissed.
Again, we strongly refute Minister Evans’ insinuation that many of the complaints of workplace bullying raised against CSIRO have resulted from employees facing genuine disciplinary actions or legitimate redundancy processes brought about by organisational restructure (and we note that the reasons for organisational restructure were not put forward by Minister Evans).
You can just see from Jack Hoffman’s case of being sacked by CSIRO for purchasing a Big Mac, and Dr Maarten Stapper’s case of being made redundant by CSIRO after making public criticisms of genetically modified crops, that Minister Evans’ claims are dubious. It was admitted in Questions on Notice(BI-145) by CSIRO on 27/07/2012 that in all cases in which an employee used the internal whistleblower process, termination of their employment followed.
This is bullying and victimisation for speaking out, veiled behind policies, procedures and claimed operational needs. Interestingly, in all cases in which misconduct was alleged by whistleblowers, those accused of misconduct retained their positions.
We should all be concerned about Minister Evans’ refusal to accept that CSIRO has a toxic workplace culture. Victims of CSIRO are aware of over 100 cases of workplace mistreatment, Maurice Blackburn Lawyers are currently representing 12 CSIRO victims and there are many others who are currently taking individual legal action or contemplating it. On top of this, Comcare has issued an Order of Improvement to CSIRO (an action rarely seen for claims of workplace bullying). The numbers clearly paint the picture – CSIRO unequivocally has a toxic workplace culture! Minister Evans just does not want to admit it, and understandably so, particularly given this is an election year.
On a final note, we are highly concerned that Minister Evans’ benchmark for determining whether workplace bullying has occurred in CSIRO is to await the findings of costly court action taken by former CSIRO employees. Minister Evans should know that the majority of workplace bullying cases never make it to the courts, as most victims do not have the financial and knowledge resources to match the Commonwealth’s resources and no longer have the emotional fortitude to seek justice through the judicial system. Particularly given CSIRO’s ruthlessness in litigation, who would want to put themselves through further trauma? Take for example the case of Dr Sylwester Chyb. During his employment, CSIRO accused him of credit card fraud and brought in an independent investigator. The investigator found Dr Chyb’s signature was forged and recommended the case be reported to the Australian Federal Police. CSIRO did not action this recommendation and, instead, brought up the same allegation in Dr Chyb’s court action in an attempt to muddy the waters. This is true victimisation and a breach of the Commonwealth Model Litigant Rules. The unsustainable allegation has now been dropped by CSIRO.
Even if the courts were to find in favour of CSIRO victims, no doubt the Commonwealth, through Minister Evans, will be quick to appeal the decision. In essence, the courts do not provide a level playing field for victims when it comes to the Commonwealth being a respondent, nor are the courts an appropriate forum for those seeking healing for trauma.
What is needed, as Shadow Minister Sophie Mirabella has called for, is an inquiry – this is where the state of culture and practice within CSIRO will most likely be formally established, not in individual court cases.