Archive for August, 2013

The Pearce Report: the Good, the Bad, and the Downright Ugly

Posted on August 27, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Victims of CSIRO (VoC) maintain that the manner in which the Pearce investigation was developed and undertaken was considerably flawed. However, we feel that it is also appropriate to commend and recognise the elements of the report which are well considered, factual and appropriately written.

“The Good” – Bullying is Confirmed to be Widespread and Facilitated by Official Intransigence at CSIRO

Most importantly, the report has uncovered 136 bullying complaints within the CSIRO and key failures of senior CSIRO officers in addressing the complaints adequately.  This is what VoC have been stating all along and what the CSIRO has consistently refuted in both proactive meetings initiated by employees and public fora.

Deputy CEO Mike Whelan told the Senate last year that there was only one confirmed case of workplace bullying at CSIRO in the last three years.  CSIRO CEO Megan Clark said that CSIRO “does not have a problem with bullying”.  Such statements are now revealed to have been false and hopelessly out of touch. The fact is that bullying is occurring in the CSIRO, and in a statistically large number of occurrences.

A recurrent theme in the report that is also important to acknowledge, is its identification of key failures by CSIRO officers, particularly those in Human Resources positions, to respond appropriately to allegations of bullying and other elements of misconduct.  In particular, the report points to the misuse of formal grievance procedures in allegations of misconduct where application of the CSIRO’s misconduct policies would be far more appropriate.

In fact, the report goes so far as to state that no grievance investigation conducted by the CSIRO relating to workplace bullying has resulted in misconduct proceedings against the accused.  Given the CSIRO’s definition of workplace bullying as misconduct (and it being against the law in progressive states), this is also highly significant.  No single individual within the organisation has, therefore, been disciplined for bullying – a ridiculous outcome that further illustrates the disingenuous nature of CSIRO’s processes and official responseCSIRO’s most senior officials denied for years that bullying was occurring and the organisation ensured that no one was even charged with bullying.

The overuse and misapplication of grievance procedures (presumably either because this channel is advantageous to CSIRO or because the organisation’s process is mismanaged) is particularly gruelling for victims of misconduct and focuses unfairly on the victim who reports such misconduct.  In most cases where the victim of such misconduct is already under significant psychological strain, the effects of undertaking a long, adversarial grievance process are often debilitating.  This, in many cases, leads to a considerably longer period of psychological rehabilitation and too often results in permanent psychological impairment.  The victim is then typically subjected to counter allegations of poor performance (often a direct result of a sustained campaign of bullying, and should be anomalous when considered in the context of a previously unblemished work ethic).

We agree wholeheartedly with Professor Pearce’s conclusion that the focus of such investigations should be upon the alleged perpetrator and not the victim, as has occurred almost exclusively in the past.

“The Good” – A “Blame-the-Victim” Culture at CSIRO was Identified

Another important observation made by the investigation team is the apparent culture of “blaming the victim” (and by logical extension, protecting the perpetrator), which the investigator importantly concludes is largely evidenced in bullied employees’ significant mistrust of CSIRO Senior Managers and the employees’ reluctance to bring matters of misconduct to their attention. In investigating such complaints, an undue influence is applied, almost without fail, upon the victims’ inability or unwillingness to adapt to significant organisational change, therefore legitimising the unreasonable actions of the perpetrator and unreasonably placing the burden of proof back upon the victim, who historically has engaged in organisational change without hesitation.  This is particularly notable in the context of the CSIRO’s perpetual state of restructure across parts of the organisation.

The investigator rightly concludes that the proximity of the parties in conflict to a more senior officer delegated ultimate responsibility for resolution of the complaint, often makes it inappropriate for the senior officer to participate in the process with complete objectivity.

This suggests the obvious: that such processes, particularly those relating to misconduct, should be relegated to a specific unit that is independent of the business unit in which the allegations arose.

In support of this view, the Investigator specifically references cases where a grievance or complaint has inappropriately been delegated to the perpetrator (head of division) for resolution.

We do not, however, accept that this should be an internal function of the CSIRO as proposed in the form of the Conduct Integrity Unit as the report proposes. We suggest this should more appropriately be an external body or professional mediation service organisation appointed by the Minister and should be completely separate of the day to day running of the organisation. The Whistleblower Committee and Staff Welfare Incident Management (SWIM) Teams are currently resourced by Senior CSIRO officers who have other operational responsibilities that may come into conflict with their ability to investigate impartially, and is therefore an unsuitable proposition.

“The Bad” – A Historical Analysis of Bullying at CSIRO was not Carried Out

Unfortunately, despite some excellent results achieved by the investigation team, it is our strong opinion that the investigation could have been conducted in a far more beneficial and effective manner.  This is a conclusion with which Professor Pearce appears to wholeheartedly agree, however, for very different reasons to those that VoC perceive.

There is no evidence that the investigation team undertook any comprehensive historical analysis of workplace bullying or misconduct allegations previously captured by the CSIRO, nor did the investigation reference other pertinent information including compensation claims relating to workplace bullying or other psychosocially derived injuries.  This is a key omission on the part of the investigator and places an unreasonable emphasis and reliance upon the provision of submissions by a restricted group of participants.

Professor Pearce has not provided any explanation for the omission of this particularly valuable body of information, which conversely formed a significant portion of the information requested by the team investigating abuses within the Australian Defence Forces in which Professor Pearce participated.

“The Bad” – The Report is Littered with CSIRO-Inspired Motherhood Statements

In general, there were a number of substantial detractions in both the format of the report and the material provided within it.  The report is riddled with many unsubstantiated assertions that purport to be authoritative by inclusion, but yet have not undergone any articulated rigorous testing or examination.

The report also contains many flowery “motherhood” statements that appear to be lifted straight out of a CSIRO Human Resources aspirations document, rather than drilling into the defective HR practices identified by Professor Pearce himself within the organisation.

Commencing the investigation report with one such motherhood statement, is in our opinion, completely inappropriate in what is asserted to be an independent process:

I want to be clear that I, my management team and the Board are committed to providing a positive working environment where all forms of inappropriate behaviour—including discrimination, bullying, harassment, intimidation or threats—are absolutely not tolerated. It does not fit with our values or our culture. I know that stopping inappropriate behaviour in the workplace and the fear of it is a challenge. It involves both the complex interactions between people and the role the organisation takes to manage it at the case level and in systems and processes.

 Dr Clark, CSIRO resolves to strengthen values and culture

Dr Clark has demonstrated most recently, in her failure to intervene in current workplace bullying allegations that have been referred directly to her, that she is in fact not prepared to take a strong stance on workplace bullying.  Dr Clark, has also demonstrated, through her failure to discipline senior officers providing false and misleading testimony under oath on no less than 128 occasions in the matter of Williams and ComCare – AATA [2012], that she is unwilling to commence misconduct proceedings, even when the reputation of the CSIRO is brought into public disrepute by its officers (an egregious contravention of the organisation’s code of conduct).

In fact, Dr Clark herself has been exposed for misleading the Senate Estimates Economics Committee on more than one occasion.  How are we to trust such bold statements, with their seeming veracity reinforced by Professor Pearce, where the very person espousing them has herself been found to behave, on the Parliamentary Hansard record, in this manner?

Dr Clark carries personal managerial responsibility for all of the machinations embedded in the Pearce investigation including the exclusion of serious cases, the Phase 2 secrecy and then the public attacks by Pearce on the individuals who pointed out those deliberate manipulations. Nauseating public hypocrisy?

 “The Ugly” – Some Victims are Attacked for Complaining About Bullying at CSIRO and the Process of Investigating It

We also feel strongly that the indulgence of Professor Dennis Pearce in personally attacking those critical of the investigation process, without explaining the fact that they were excluded from participation by his own Terms of Reference, strongly detracts from the professionalism and independence of the report and is completely inappropriate within the context of the investigation, particularly in view of the fact that Professor Pearce confirms the allegations of widespread bullying in CSIRO.

The restricted nature of the constitution and scope of Terms of Reference which the investigation team was required to operate, particularly the exclusion of allegations constituting criminal misconduct, created a substantial deterrent and barrier to participation, as many potential participants perceived little value in providing personal information to the investigation team where under the Terms of Reference, it was to be excluded for any consideration in Phase 2 of the investigation and therefore would not provide any resolution for the participant.  This again is inconsistent with enabling and encouraging strong participation and the best possible sample group.

VoC estimated that up to 95% of our members would be excluded from participation in Phase 2 of the investigation as a result of time elapsed, criminal allegations, legal or tribunal proceedings or previously investigated complaints. Then there was also matter of the independence of the publication of the findings from phase 2 which are turned over to CSIRO exclusively.

In the investigation report, Professor Pearce makes reference to the poor quality of investigations conducted by the CSIRO, particularly by internal Human Resources officers into allegations of misconduct, and yet has actively excluded any detailed review of the manner in which these investigations were conducted. This in fact failed to ameliorate the very possibility of potentially improper investigation processes as described.

In essence, it is not unreasonable to propose that that Professor Pearce’s criticism of the critics of the investigation process is largely a result of his own failure in relying solely upon the submissions received, in a process that was unduly restrictive and unlikely to engage the largest possible sample group.

Many of Professor Pearce’s assertions relating to critics of the investigation process are also largely unfounded and incorrect, particularly those relating to VoC. Suggesting that key stakeholders have unduly attempted to obstruct the investigation by reasonably refusing to provide privileged or confidential information is really grasping at straws.  Would the investigator consent to providing those submissions to stakeholders in the same context?  We sincerely hope not.

Similarly, it is incongruous to compare raising legitimate public concerns about the independence of an investigation process with that of actively obstructing the process.

In the case of the VoC group, members were duly informed that, after examining the published Terms of Reference and receiving various advice, VoC were unable to support the investigation process, as it was felt that the majority of our members were procedurally excluded in a manner that had to have been considered and deliberate. There was also no guarantee that submitters would not be legally disadvantaged.

The decision of the investigator to amend the Terms of Reference shortly before the closing date for submissions supports the concerns raised in relation to the investigation process.  Unfortunately the amendments were deficient in addressing the key concerns raised by the stakeholder groups, that central and highly relevant cases were excluded.

In adopting this position, the VoC clearly articulated to members that they should make their own decision as to whether or not to participate in the investigation process, taking into consideration their own personal circumstances (there is a record on the VoC website).

A number of our members subsequently made the decision to participate in the process, whereas many of our members made an informed decision not to participate.

We note also that Professor Pearce, in condemning those parties critical of the investigation, has failed to objectively address the merits of the criticisms. That he agreed to exclude a large number of the most serious cases for investigation also strongly detracts from the quality of the report and again questions the impartiality of the investigation process.

Conclusion – The Pearce Report Provided A Partisan View of Bullying at CSIRO

In conclusion, we strongly agree with Professor Pearce to the extent that the investigation had a far greater potential than has been realised in the stage 1 process, however, we feel that there is an issue of objectivity in this process.

Professor Pearce’s artificially contrived attacks on the credibility of those reasonably criticising deficiencies in the process have done little to reassure the public about the independence of this investigation, paid for by CSIRO.

Professor Pearce and HWL Ebsworth are to benefit from substantial fees for undertaking this investigation, whereas individual CSIRO staff subject to bullying, including members of VoC, depend on nothing more than the freely-given time and efforts of publicly-minded volunteers.

The community will ultimately decide who is the more objective: the multinational law firm paid by the organisation it is to investigate, or the very many CSIRO staff and ex-staff who wish to see a much loved public institution restored to its former status, one in which integrity and excellence in science are truly lived values.

VoC will continue to monitor the outcomes of the investigation, and to advocate for a workplace at CSIRO that is free of nefarious behaviour.

Victims of CSIRO

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An interesting article – Workplace Express

Posted on August 18, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized |

The following article hits the nail squarely on the head.  The immediate actions of Human Resources staff are often critical to the outcome of a complaint of bullying or other misconduct.  This however does not excuse senior management from overall responsibility in how such matters are ultimately addressed.  In the case of the CSIRO, many of these matters have been addressed to the CSIRO Chief Executive Officer, Dr Megan Clark herself.

Given that bullying is specifically identified as misconduct under the CSIRO Code of Conduct policy, we wonder whether Human Resources (or People & Culture as it is referred to in CSIRO) will enact the misconduct policy in relation to its employees found to have engaged in bullying.  To date the bullies appear to be a largely protected species, many of whom are permitted to continue terrorising other employees despite the danger they present to the health and well-being of others in the workplace.  These bullies, like “parish priests”, are often redeployed into other areas of the organisation to again prey on a new group of unsuspecting “subordinates”.

CSIRO needs to address bullying as organisational, not individual, problem: Report

Workplace Express

16 August 2013 12:18pm 

Australia’s national science agency CSIRO has received a mixed report card from an independent investigation into allegations of workplace bullying, which found that while the organisation’s work culture wasn’t “toxic”, its policies had encouraged a “blame the victim” approach.

The investigation, by Emeritus Professor Dennis Pearce AO and HWL Ebsworth Lawyers, was set up early this year after former CSIRO employees publicly alleged that they had been subjected to bullying and other forms of misconduct.

According to the report released this week on the first phase of the investigation, there is not a “major problem of workplace bullying or other unreasonable behaviour in CSIRO and it is definitely not possible to describe the work culture at CSIRO as ‘toxic'”.

However, investigators had “noted a number of pressure points within the operating model and the nature of the workforce which increase the risk of bullying and we have seen aspects of the Organisation’s response to workplace bullying that concern us”.

The investigation received 110 submissions from current and former employees that outlined 130 discrete allegations of bullying, harassment and unreasonable behaviour.

Finding there were “pockets of concern” that need addressing, the report includes 34 recommendations, which include that the organisation:

  • ensure coal-face managers and HR staff are trained to “adopt reports of workplace bullying as its problem, rather than the individual’s;
  • promote an “early and quick” informal resolution process and improve monitoring of informal complaints and resolutions so that more formal action can be taken for repeat offending; and
  • ensure the organisation investigates more complex or repeat complaints through misconduct avenues, rather than relying on victims to take action through grievance procedures.

The report continues that “fundamentally”, what is required is “a shift in CSIRO’s practical approach from dealing with workplace bullying as an individual victim’s problem, to dealing with it as the Organisation’s problem”.

It found that historically there had been an “over-reliance” on using grievance procedures for investigating suspected misconduct “when the separate misconduct procedure should have been activated and utilised—particularly so in instances involving allegations of workplace bullying”.

“The relevant policies have (and still do) encourage this practice of using grievance procedures to respond to allegations of workplace bullying,” it says.

Line managers and HR officers exacerbated the situation

Investigators found that problems with the way bullying complaints had been treated were exacerbated by the close involvement of line managers and HR officers.

Line management having responsibility for these issues had resulted in “the people about whom the complaint is being made” being “closely associated with both the victim and the alleged perpetrator”.

The report says that many submissions were “very nearly as critical of the actions (or inactions) of Human Resources officers as they have been of the persons whose conduct they have complained about”.

“We acknowledge that workplace bullying is difficult to deal with, and that some people may have unrealistic expectations of what Human Resources’ role is in such matters, but we see a clear opportunity for improvement here.”

The report says the organisation should consider establishing a discrete Conduct Integrity Unit to manage “workplace bullying, other significant inter-personal misconduct and issues relating to scientific integrity”.

CSIRO chief executive Dr Megan Clark said in a statement yesterday that the board would work with staff, the CPSU and other stakeholders to implement the report’s recommendations.

Clark said she would “apologise unreservedly” if the second phase of the investigation found that CSIRO employees had been bullied and harassed.

CPSU staff association secretary, Sam Popovski, said the investigation showed the CSIRO needed to take “greater responsibility in resolving – not avoiding – conflict between individuals before it has a chance to escalate”.

“Policy and procedures need to be improved and made fairer. Managers and human resources staff need to be more accessible to staff and more responsive,” he said.

However, Maurice Blackburn employment principal Giri Sivaraman, who wrote to Comcare in 2012 on behalf of 12 former CSIRO staff members alleging bullying behaviour, said it seemed “bizarre that the inquiry says there are only ‘pockets of concern’ and yet 110 submissions were received and a series of recommendations are made to address the ‘blame the victim culture’ that was prevalent in CSIRO”.

“This report has backed up our view that there are some serious issues at CSIRO. Of the 130 allegations received 95% relate to multiple incidents of workplace bullying or unreasonable behavior. That does not seem like a ‘pocket of concern’ to me.”

Workplace conduct in CSIRO: A report of the Independent Investigator for allegations of workplace bullying and other unreasonable behaviour Phase 1 — General findings

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Incomplete inquiry still leaves questions unanswered

Posted on August 16, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized |

The following media release is provided courtesy of the office of the Shadow Minister, Sophie Mirabella

Media Release

Sophie Mirabella MP Shadow Minister for Innovation, Industry and Science

Wednesday 14 August 2013


While the Coalition will carefully consider the findings of the Pearce Inquiry into bullying and associated workplace problems at the CSIRO, we remain disappointed that potentially more than 100 cases were overlooked by the investigation.

The Pearce Inquiry was established as a direct consequence of the Coalition exposing these issues over several years. It followed us writing in late 2012 to the then Science Minister Evans, asking that a comprehensive, independent inquiry be conducted immediately.

Naturally, we therefore welcome further light being shed on these problems at the organisation.

On the basis of the 130 discrete instances of bullying and/or harassment that they have unearthed through this limited inquiry, Professor Pearce’s team has been able to identify a wide range of problems and suggested improvements to CSIRO’s existing practices and policies.

The Coalition remains concerned by what we regard as the confined scope of the investigation. It is particularly disappointing that the Terms of Reference specifically exclude consideration of the cases of people who have raised allegations of criminal conduct and/or instigated legal proceedings against CSIRO, when they are naturally likely to be the people who consider themselves to have been the most seriously affected by these issues.

As a result of these and other limitations, the inquiry has been rejected in large part by the ‘Victims of CSIRO’ group. This is bitterly disappointing for any serious review of these issues, given that the ‘Victims of CSIRO’ group has been the lead player in bringing together more than 100 CSIRO employees who allege various forms of workplace intimidation and bullying.

In circumstances where so many current and former staff do not feel comfortable about relating their experiences, we believe that it is highly unlikely that a complete and comprehensive picture of the history of bullying at CSIRO can ever emerge. It is also hard not to conclude that the extent of the problem will therefore be understated by the inquiry.

We also share the ‘Victims of CSIRO’ group’s fundamental concern that this investigation of bullying should have been conducted completely independently of the CSIRO itself, rather than reporting directly to it.

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VoC Comment Policy

Posted on August 16, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized |

The Victims of CSIRO group recognises that the release of the CSIRO recent investigation report in to workplace bullying and other misconduct has evoked considerable emotion on all sides, however we wish to remind visitors to our website  that we will not publish vulgar, extreme, racist/sexist or any other form of discriminatory comments on our website.

Any such comments which are deemed to contravene Australian criminal codes will be immediately referred to the law enforcement agency in the most appropriate jurisdiction.

If you feel that we have unreasonably failed to approve your comments for publication then feel free to email us at outlining the reasons why you feel this decision should be reversed, and we will take this request under consideration.  Please provide alternative contact details so that we may contact you directly to discuss your request.

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Response to Investigation Report

Posted on August 16, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Victims of CSIRO would like to make the following brief statement in relation to the publication of the CSIRO Investigation into Workplace Bullying and other Misconduct.  After further consideration of the report, Victims of CSIRO will publish a more detailed response.  We note that the CSIRO has had two weeks to examine this report prior to its publication, but other stakeholders have not been afforded this same opportunity.

Statistical Significance of response to investigation

Both Prof. Dennis Pearce and Ms Melanie McKean were involved in the investigation into allegations of misconduct within the Australian Defence Forces undertaken by their former employer DLA Piper.

About 1000 submissions spanning 60 years were made to the ADF Investigation, an organisation that employs 80,000 personnel.

The CSIRO Investigation received 110 submissions (alleging 130 separate allegations) spanning 20 years. CSIRO employs only 6,500 personnel.

Proportionally the CSIRO Investigation has received nearly double the complaints of the ADF Investigation for only one third of the time.

The ADF Investigation claimed to have uncovered a significant culture of abuse within the Australian Defence Forces.

By stark contrast, the CSIRO Investigation with a statistically greater proportion of complaints, claims to have found only isolated ‘pockets of concern’ and no evidence of institutional or cultural problems.

The Point has been missed entirely

In the carefully planned media spectacle staged by the CSIRO, a key point has been missed entirely. That is:

The investigation report, if nothing else, has substantiated the existence of a significant number of bullying allegations within the CSIRO.

For years, Senior Officers of the CSIRO have wilfully misled the public, our federal politicians and even judicial bodies about misconduct within the organisation and have attempted, and continue in their attempts, to vilify and discredit those who have dared to contest the validity of these public statements.

Well-founded Criticisms

It has been suggested by various sources that had the shortcomings of the CSIRO Investigation been addressed (including transparency and exclusion of substantive cases), and had the stakeholders been properly consulted, the number of submissions could well have exceeded 300-400.

The Investigation report identified mistrust in senior management as a significant issue, yet the investigator has expended precious little effort to address this barrier to participation. The investigator instead seems to be “passing the buck” for this failure onto those who have been justly critical of the investigation process from the very beginning.

How big is the bill the tax payers are footing for this exercise we wonder…

More to come…

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Press Release from Maurice Blackburn Lawyers

Posted on August 14, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Maurice Blackburn Lawyers who represented a number of former CSIRO employees in relation to workplace bullying complaints has provided the following media release in relation to the investigation report published by HWL Ebsworth today.

CSIRO bullying report identifies more than “pockets of concern”

Leading employment law firm Maurice Blackburn says a “blame the victim” approach to workplace bullying at CSIRO has to end if the organization wants to fix the way it manages allegations of bullying, harassment and unreasonable behavior.

A Phase 1, independent report titled “Workplace Conduct in CSIRO” by former Commonwealth Ombudsman Professor Dennis Pearce AO released today makes 34 recommendations on how bullying is managed by Australia’s peak scientific research agency. The report investigators received 110 submissions, half of these from former employees of CSIRO.  The terms of reference did not allow for anonymity.

Giri Sivaraman, principal at Maurice Blackburn said; ‘I wrote to Comcare in 2012 on behalf of 12 former CSIRO staff members alleging that bullying behaviour at CSIRO was causing a hazard to workplace health and safety. There is nothing in this report that denies that. Most of those former staff members were concerned about the terms of reference of Professor Pearce’s enquiry and did not make submissions.  This was largely because they do not trust the senior management of CSIRO,who commissioned the report.”

“It seems bizarre that the inquiry says there are only ‘pockets of concern’ and yet 110 submissions were received and a series of recommendations are made to address the ‘blame the victim culture’ that was prevalent in CSIRO.”

“This report has backed up our view that there are some serious issues at CSIRO. Of the 130 allegations received 95% relate to multiple incidents of workplace bullying or unreasonable behavior. That does not seem like a ‘pocket of concern’ to me.”

“While this review has said there is no toxic culture of bullying at CSIRO, it claims the organization has not handled allegations of bullying well in a number of instances.  It further says that CSIRO has a big job ahead of it to fix up its internal grievance procedures to ensure that victims of bullying are taken seriously and people are not made to feel like its their problem. The widespread mistrust of senior management is specifically commented upon.”

“There is an incredible pool of smart and talented staff currently at CSIRO and many others who have left, and to see this talent and expertise wasted because of bullying and harassment is a tragedy.”

There still remains an obligation on Comcare to take action to address the issues raised last year.


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CSIRO to release bullying review findings

Posted on August 13, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized |

An independent review into claims of workplace bullying and harassment at the CSIRO will be made public today.

Australia’s peak scientific organisation announced the inquiry in February after the Federal Government’s workplace safety agency, Comcare, identified a list of problems with the CSIRO’s policies.

Emeritus Professor Dennis Pearce has been investigating claims of harassment and bullying of current and former staff, including complaints made by a group of scientists who call themselves the Victims of CSIRO.

The General Findings Report will be released at a press conference in Canberra today along with the CSIRO’s response.


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