Archive for September, 2013
The following article was published in the Canberra times recently. The following statement is of particular note:
“Comcare says it is simply a matter of time before there is a prosecution and a fine of hundreds of thousands of dollars under the tough health and safety laws.”
We would counter that it is well past time for Comcare to take a tough stance on workplace bullying.
Victims of CSIRO and other public sector advocacy groups have repeatedly called for Comcare to investigate the complaints of our members. The typical response we have received in past is that “the agency has policies in place to address workplace bullying”. Comcare’s issuing of an improvement notice to the CSIRO in 2012 requiring improvements to its policies relating to the management workplace psychosocial issues has been spectacularly unsuccessful in addressing the complaints of bullying which now number in the hundreds.
Policy is only as effective as the individuals responsible for administering it and Comcare must respond strongly in cases where the maladministration of such policies is culpable
Victims of CSIRO again calls upon Comcare to demonstrate a proper duty of care towards federal employees by properly investigating all complaints which the federal work health and safety regulator has received.
Bullying warning for PS managers
Noel Towell September 27, 2013
The federal work safety regulator says the current upheaval of government means departments and agencies are in the danger zone for workplace “psychosocial” injuries and warns public service managers can be fined up to $600,000 for failure to prevent bullying and harassment.
Comcare told a group of managers in Canberra on Thursday that many public sector leaders were not aware of how far their legal responsibilities ran and that rank-and-file public servants could be fined $300,000 in the most serious cases of bullying.
Comcare says it is simply a matter of time before there is a prosecution and a fine of hundreds of thousands of dollars under the tough health and safety laws.
Comcare regional director Mina Podbereski told the bullying seminar that managers could be fined individually $100,000 for a “category one” offence and up to $600,000 for the most serious “category three” breach of the Work Health and Safety Act, which might cover the suicide of a bullied worker.
Ms Podbereski said fines would have to be paid by the individual, not their employer.
“Insurance doesn’t cover it. There is no kind of insurance that will cover it,” the Comcare official said.
“The Work Health and Safety Act was developed to ensure that you couldn’t buy a cop-out, that you couldn’t insure against this.”
Comcare is facing a rising tide of claims of psychiatric injuries, many of them related to allegations of bullying and harassment, with “psych claims” four times more common in the public sector than in private enterprise and up by 30 per cent in the past three years.
Public service unions have warned that the public sector cuts of the previous Labor and recently elected Coalition governments have driven up the rate of psychosocial injury claims, and Ms Podbereski confirmed on Thursday that changing times brought a higher danger of health and safety breaches.
“We might get accidental non-compliance, with major stress, organisations changing, downsizing and people trying to squeeze workers and to get more work out of them,” she said.
Ms Podbereski told the seminar, held by the Institute of Arbitrators and Mediators, that her agency was trying to get the message through to managers of the full extent of their legal responsibilities.
“Under the legislation a person who has an impact on the organisation has legal responsibility for workers, contractors, and volunteers and even ‘contracted contractors’ going down three or four levels,” she said.
“That has been a great stressor for a lot of officers in positions of senior management.
“With government agencies that have portfolio agencies, what I don’t think they realise is the secretaries of portfolio agencies have got responsibilities for what happens in the smaller agencies.
“So that really is a big issue at the moment.”
She said the message was meeting resistance.
“Senior leaders must understand the impact of bullying and harassment, what the psychological hazards are on the individual,” Ms Podbereski said.
“They can’t just leave it to the human resources manager or the work health and safety manager or the harassment information officer.
“We’re getting quite a pushback from time to time from senior officers.”
Asked if Comcare had prosecuted anyone under the tough health and safety laws, Ms Podbereski replied that it was a matter of time. “Not yet, but it will happen,” she said.
“Keep in mind that it is really difficult to find this standard of proof. It’s very black and white.
“There will come a time when we will end up in court. We’re working on a case now that could end up that way.”
Whilst we acknowledge that our members share a diversity of political views and ideals, we cannot allow an injustice to be served upon the Member for Indi, Mrs Sophie Mirabella, as has occurred recently through those who have branded her “Anti-CSIRO”.
It is clear that those behind the slurs are in no-way concerned about or connected with issues facing the CSIRO and are clearly attempting to use the subject matter for political expediency.
The Member for Indi has been one of the few politicians with the guts and determination to tackle the serious issues plaguing the CSIRO which others have shied away from. Her stance has been well and truly vindicated recently in the results of a recent investigation which uncovered no fewer than 130 allegations of bullying and misconduct within the CSIRO, in spite of the serious questions surrounding the independence of the investigation.
We applaud the member for Indi for her efforts in tackling the tough issues which no one else is prepared to deal with.
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Dr Calum Drummond, the CSIRO Group Executive publicly criticised by Deputy President, J W Constance for his part in providing misleading statements under oath before the Australian Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AATA) in the matter of Williams and Comcare , has announced that he is quitting the CSIRO to take up a role with the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) as Deputy Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation.
The Decision of Deputy President Constance included: “I am not satisfied that Dr Drummond was a reliable witness and I do not make any findings of fact based on his evidence.”
Subsequent to decision handed down by Deputy President Constance, it has been announced in the Federal House of Representatives that Dr Drummond and his direct reports provided no fewer than 128 false or misleading statements before the tribunal.
Under Chapter 7 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act , false or misleading conduct by public officials acting in an official capacity can result in a lengthy term of imprisonment. This is to say nothing of the question of perjury.
We question whether the appointment of Dr Drummond by RMIT is a wise decision given his involvement in the contrived redundancy of Mr Martin Williams after RMIT itself recently became the centre of a scandal involving the similarly contrived sacking of Professor Judith Bessant in May this year.
In the case of Professor Bessant, RMIT was fined $37,000 by the Federal Court of Australia and ordered to reinstate Professor Bessant who otherwise could reasonably have sought damages of anywhere between $1 million and $1.9 million in lost income.
Dr Drummond leaves CSIRO amid controversy that he was protected from misconduct proceedings with the CSIRO conducting an “in-house” investigation into the allegations which was undertaken by none other than an employee who was previously reported to Dr Drummond and worked at a peer level with his co-accused.
It has not also gone unnoticed that a number of other senior executives referred to in complaints have also quietly left – others are on ‘sabbatical’ (extended leave)
No doubt Drummond is leaving with his full entitlements in similar fashion to the procession of other senior executives who appear to be quietly slipping out of the organisation, arguably to avoid further scrutiny of alleged misconduct in Phase 2 of the CSIRO investigation into workplace bullying and other misconduct, the terms of which strictly prohibit the Investigator from pursuing allegations relating to former employees or from even advising the complainant that the investigation has been discontinued for that very reason.
The RMIT article can be viewed here:
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