Archive for November, 2013
A short while ago we learned that a great friend and anti-bullying campaigner, Mike Welsh has decided to leave the Canberra-based Radio 2CC Drive Time show which he has been hosting for the best part of a decade. Mike contacted the Victims of CSIRO group after hearing about us through a media article, offering the group the genuine opportunity to speak on his program and provide a victims point of view on the topic of workplace bullying, a voice that is often buried beneath the carefully manicured “departmental” press releases subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) vilifying and denigrating those with the courage to come forward, through the use of terms such as disgruntled former employee, sensationalist or melodramatic. Mike interviewed many, many people in relation to the allegations of bullying within the CSIRO and was unrelenting in
Mike’s efforts earned him the wrath of CSIRO public relations spin-doctor, Huw Morgan who is reported to have questioned Mike’s journalistic credentials in somewhat vulgar terms, leaving no-doubt as to the extent to which the CSIRO will go to stifle dissent and/or any form of adverse reporting. This is apparently not an isolated incident as other journalists have alleged being on the receiving end of very similar behaviour.
Whilst the tone of the article written below might be viewed as a little self-deprecation, nothing could be farther from the truth! There would be very few people within the public sector who have not experienced personally or viewed someone else experiencing some form of workplace bullying but it is still a topic that many are reluctant to speak about public. Mike has brought the matter of workplace bullying, particularly rife within the Commonwealth and ACT public services (and associated agencies) into the public spotlight.
Many, many people who Mike has assisted and championed over the years, owe a debt of gratitude, and we here at Victims of CSIRO will be forever grateful for his support. His service and contribution to the community is outstanding and has without a doubt saved many lives by empowering victims to speak out in might what otherwise seem a hopeless situation.
We wish Mike all the best in every future endeavour and are deeply grateful to him, as are no doubt, many within the Canberra community.
I punched him in the face, got strapped and was never bullied again.
But you can’t punch the bully in the face anymore. So what to do?
The more I know of this destructive human trait, the less encouraged I am of a solution.
The Sydney “Telegraph” recently featured a 40-year-old man who’d been bullied at school. He gave horrendous examples of the abuse he copped in the yards of several schools he was forced to attend.
The ensuing years proved to be problematic, with relationship breakdowns and an inability to hold down regular employment.
There was a positive outcome though, several of his peers, including his own brother, read the article and were shocked to learn of his suffering. Furthermore, several of them got in contact to apologise. They were unaware of the suffering they’d inflicted.
Over my 11 years on the 2CC Drive Show, I have become educated on the long-term and permanent damage done by bullying, including workplace bullying and it seems to me that we don’t mature much once we’re out of the schoolyard.
I assured scores of victims of workplace bullying (largely within the ACT Public Service) that I could protect them should they choose to go to air. But it turns out, I couldn’t in many cases. Whistleblowers are often bullied again.
The standard management approach of “is that really bullying?” or” is he/she just too sensitive?” is wearing thin. Or the old fallback: “Better watch your step, lest you wreck your career”.
If you’re in the foetal position at 3am terrified at the prospect of going back into the battle zone… more than likely, it’s bullying.
If your day brightens up 100 per cent the moment you arrive and discover Bully is off for the day…. more than likely, there’s a bullying problem.
I also urged those who contacted me to get together in numbers But safety and power in numbers is not always a guarantee. The strategy is to worm out the ring leaders of the “revolt” and put pressure on them. A group of six becomes two, split the two and you may just have “made this thing go away”.
One worker, a big, strong man standing 6’3” told me he was fearful of returning to work in the yard where he’d been bullied.
A woman told me that while she won her case, she would not recommend going down that road, it’s far too painful.
Another woman, who had the guts to make a written complaint, told me that by coffee time, the entire office – including the bully knew. The bullying then intensified.
The ACT Government was lauded on the introduction of a whistleblowing policy which loosely allowed a public servant to go outside (to media) with their bullying and allied issues, if they were dissatisfied with the “usual procedure”. The problem is “usual procedure” usually means their card is marked.
This “innovative” whistleblower policy failed a public servant with whom I’d been speaking earlier this year. After returning from six weeks off air, I texted her to reconnect. She told me it was “too late”, she was “on the roof”, which I took for a euphemism for getting to the end of her rope.
But she was, in fact, on the roof and ready to jump.
She came down and was admitted to psychiatric ward. Three days later, she took a call from her superior wanting to know why she’d missed work!
Another time, I received a letter from five staff of an ACT Department confirming that what I was saying was one hundred per cent correct. One quote – “So much suffering. So much stress. We wait for suicides, because that is what will happen” – was frightening.
I once tweeted the word “suicide” to shame the Government on bullying. Chief Minister Katy Gallagher tweeted it wasn’t the forum for such a serious issue. What then my Chief Minister is the forum? Or do we wait until after the suicides to formulate another policy?
Mike Welsh was, until this month, the Drive Time announcer on 2CCRead Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
The article below appeared in the Canberra Times yesterday. Aren’t many of the senior managers in CSIRO on contract? No doubt they will also be spared from the purging on non-indefinite staff despite representing a large proportion of the annual salary costs for the organisation.
The article below references to a battleground in relation to the the preferred method of employment within the CSIRO which the Enterprise Agreement states to be “indefinite” tenure as opposed to “fixed-term” or contract appointments.
In 2007 the CSIRO Staff Association commenced action in what was then the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC), the predecessor to the current Fair Work Commission. The action was taken in relation to the large number of employees (approximately 350-400) who were maintained on fixed-term, some for up to 12 years without review in breach of the Enterprise Agreement. The Agreement in place at the time obliged the CSIRO to review fixed term appoints every 4 and 7 years, to assess whether the position should be more appropriate deemed “indefinite”.
The end result was that the CSIRO was required to convert those 350-400 positions to indefinite status, which became crucial to many of those long “fixed-term” appointees who were subsequently shed through a process of organisational restructure and would have otherwise left with little or no entitlement to the redundancy payments that indefinitely tenured employees of the CSIRO.
We would strongly recommend that the CSIRO Staff Association undertake investigation of members who may find themselves in similar circumstances to determine whether the CSIRO has breached their employment conditions.
Job fears for CSIRO workers amid public service hiring freeze
NOEL TOWELL November 07, 2013
CSIRO staff leaders confronted their bosses on Thursday, demanding answers on the fate of more than 1400 ”non-ongoing” workers at the organisation.
The jobs of about 20 per cent of the Commonwealth science group’s 6500 staff were plunged into uncertainty last week after Public Service Minister Eric Abetz imposed a hiring ban on the federal bureaucracy.
The staff freeze threatens to paralyse some of the organisation’s premier research projects, with a ban on hiring, extending or renewing contracts effective immediately. Fairfax Media understands the only exceptions are post-doctoral positions and indigenous recruitment.
”It’s going to be a huge problem,” said one staff member, who wanted to remain anonymous.
CSIRO’s executive and senior staff have been frantically seeking explanations from government as to how the edict is to be interpreted.
”Are there any loopholes or special cases? We’re trying to figure it out. The meetings are ongoing,” the staff member said.
It is not clear if the bans apply retrospectively to the series of three, four and five-year Australian Research Council fellowship positions – grants which Education Minister Christopher Pyne will announce on Friday.
”We have an agreement with the ARC, so does that mean they are exempt? We don’t know. It’s a complete mess,” another CSIRO employee said.
After Thursday afternoon’s talks between the CSIRO Staff Association there appeared to be a large gulf between the sides, with the association saying little and management accusing it of exaggerating the number of jobs on the line.
After the minister’s announcement last week, CSIRO chief Megan Clark said the group, which has a much higher proportion of ”term” staff than other public sector operations, would not be ”entering into any new, or extending existing term or contract employment arrangements”.
The CSIRO has about 990 ”term” workers and about 440 casual staff.
As confusion continued over the jobs of thousands of temps, contractors and other ”non-ongoing” public service workers in government departments around Australia, the service’s workplace authority, the Public Service Commission, had still not responded to departmental bosses’ pleas for guidance on the new rules.
”Further instructions to agencies and APS employees on the interim recruitment arrangements should be available shortly,” a commission spokeswoman said.
CSIRO Staff Association president Michael Borgas said he and his colleagues were meeting the group’s human resources boss Trevor Heldt to try to get some answers on the fate of the term workers.
”It’s a massive concern,” Mr Borgas said.
But after Thursday’s meeting, a CSIRO Staff Association spokesman said they were waiting for more information from management before making any further comment.
A CSIRO spokesman was likewise saying little about the talks but said the number of jobs under threat had been exaggerated.
”The figure quoted of 1500 potential staff under uncertainty is a significant exaggeration,” he said.
”There are approximately 300 non-casual term staff whose terms finish in the 2013-14 financial year and a similar number in the period 2014-15. It is noteworthy that, in normal circumstances, a proportion of these terms are not renewed in any given year.
”Also a significant proportion, up to 40 per cent in some years, of our term appointments are for the purposes of employment of post-doctoral fellows and similar transitional science roles which in the normal course of events do not come with an expectation of renewal,” the spokesman said.
He said that about half of CSIRO’s casual staff came in for renewal each financial year.
”In terms of casual staff the numbers of projected term completions are in the range of 150 to 250 each financial year,” he said.
”CSIRO uses casual staff primarily for seasonal work or for covering absences of administrative support staff – which provides employment opportunities for people who prefer this mode of employment or who may not be able to commit to full-time employment.”
Younger CSIRO staff and research scientists head-hunted from overseas are massively over-represented in the ranks of term workers at the group and the proportion of non-ongoing staff to permanent employees has been an industrial relations battleground at the organisation for several years.
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It appears that the CSIRO’s infamous reputation has spread as far as New York. In landmark legislation before New York City Council’s Committee on Housing and Buildings which seeks to mandate installation of photoelectric smoke alarms in all residential buildings, the CSIRO was criticised over its continual refusal to allow the filming of smoke detector tests for ionization-type smoke detectors. The CSIRO tests smoke alarms sold in Australia in accordance with Australia’s Smoke Alarm Standard AS3786-1993.
Being a national compliance tester for a device upon which potentially millions of Australians lives depend, it is reprehensible that the CSIRO would refuse to permit independent evaluation by consumer and advocacy groups concerned about the effectiveness and fitness for purpose of such safety devices.
The CSIRO has, of course, fallen back upon its age old line of defence in suggesting that commercial confidence of its customers would be breached in permitting such testing, according to CSIRO spokesperson, Mr Huw Morgan.
Our understanding is that interest groups are not attempting to independently verify particular brands of smoke detector, but moreover the particular ionization technology used in many different brands of smoke detector sold throughout Australia. It would be a simple matter for those who are conducting the tests to conceal the brand and model of the device being tested, thus invalidating the claims of the CSIRO in relation to its claim of the Commercial-in-Confidence of such testing.
It has been suggested that the real reason why the CSIRO will not permit independent filming and verification of compliance of such devices is because empirical scientific test data held by the CSIRO shows ionisation smoke alarms do not provide sufficient time to escape in the early, smouldering stage of a fire. Most deaths in house fires result from the inhalation of toxic combustion gases well before the heat of the fire ever reaches the victim. The official positions of most Australian fire safety and consumer organisations acknowledge the problem with ionisation smoke alarms. The official position of all Australian Fire Brigades since June, 2006 warns, “Ionisation smoke alarms may not operate in time to alert occupants early enough to escape from smouldering fires.” (www.thewfsf.org/positions)
In the United States the International Association of Fire Fighters (300,000+ members) states that changing from ionisation to photoelectric smoke alarms will drastically reduce loss of life among citizens and fire fighters. The CSIRO has known of the life-threatening limitations of ionisation smoke alarms for years. In a recent parliamentary speech, Chris Gulaptis MP said he’d sent an open letter to the CSIRO seeking permission for the media to be allowed to film its testing of ionisation alarms. The CSIRO has refused.
This begs the serious question of whether the CSIRO should be putting the interests of its Commercial partners ahead of its duties to serve the Australian Public.
What does this have to do with bullying you may well ask…
If the CSIRO’s Senior Management are prepared to put at risk the lives of Australian’s for profit then it stands to reason that it has a similar lack of respect for the health and wellbeing of its employees as has been quaintly captured in the recent Stage 1 report into Workplace Bullying in which the investigation team described the CSIRO as lacking in empathy for its employees.
We feel it goes far beyond a disregard for the wellbeing of others and into the realm of the pathological hunger to succeed commercially in spite of the human cost. Is this what we really want from our premier Science Agency which was established for the betterment of our nation and not the selfish interests of the few?
More information on the CSIRO’s role in preventing transparent testing of smoke alarms in Australia can be found at: www.SmokeAlarmWarning.org/ny.htmlRead Full Post | Make a Comment ( 3 so far )