CSIRO Acknowledges Victims of CSIRO at Comcare Conference
CSIRO Workplace Relations Manager, Alex Allars presented the following Case Study entitled “The impact of systems change on Bullying at CSIRO” at the 2014 Comcare National Conference. A link to the video of the presentation can be found at http://comcare.gov.au/conference/speaker_presentations2/video-presentations/alex_allars. It is a pity that a transcript of the presentation has as yet not been posted on the Comcare website, however, we would encourage those who are interested to take the time to view the presentation and consider some of the discussion points along with the comments we provide below.
We would like to acknowledge Alex for taking the opportunity to reference the vital work of groups such as Victims of CSIRO in her presentation to conference delegates, particularly as most organisations would like simply to ignore the fact that such groups exist in the first place.
In referencing the work of groups such as Victims of CSIRO, Alex makes comment to the effect that such groups often have a negative/deleterious effect on the reputation of the CSIRO and we feel that this is an important topic as for many of our members it is a subject close to our hearts.
A large proportion of our membership have devoted considerable periods of their life to the CSIRO and invariably held or still hold great pride in having worked for such a well-regarded and prestigious organisation and do not take the decision to publicly criticise the CSIRO lightly.
It is not uncommon to hear a member state that they considered the CSIRO to be an organisation for which they could have conceivably continued to work for the rest of their life, but for their experiences of workplace bullying and what they perceive to be the wholly unsatisfactory response to their complaints by CSIRO management.
Most choose to speak out against the organisation in the fervent hope that the proverbial “airing of the dirty laundry” will in some measure help to address such issues and bring about positive change and do so out of a sense of frustration borne by the feeling that internal mechanisms of the CSIRO had failed them utterly.
The reality is that CSIRO management trashed its own reputation by abusing its own standards of behaviour and risk. We know it can be shown – through Comcare data alone – that CSIRO’s management – to the most senior levels – have cavalierly condoned and engineered a proactive ‘bullying’ in order to ‘manage out’ disagreeable people or whistleblowers when required. They have run the gauntlet of reputational damage and waste of public funds under the umbrella of the public trust afforded CSIRO by its scientists’ dedicated work. The result has been a growing trail of damaged individuals who cumulatively mean a list of expensive Comcare claims (mostly hidden from view by arrangement).
Initiatives such as the Victims of CSIRO only arise out of severely poisoned conditions – management are still actively buck-passing to scapegoats and patching the suppurating wound.
It has never been, nor will ever be the goal of the Victims of CSIRO to destroy the public reputation of the CSIRO. We reaffirm that we look forward to day for the Victims of CSIRO group will be the day that a group such as ours is no longer necessary and we can shut down the website.
In fact, we would strongly encourage the CSIRO to forget about its reputation for long enough to focus on what the organisation can do to assist in the rehabilitation or perhaps even (where possible) the repatriation of those it has injured. Making amends would go a long way towards achieving healing for those whom the CSIRO has wronged.
In her presentation, Alex Allars speaks of the criticality of restoring the trust in CSIRO processes and policies and the people that drive them.
We note that Victims of CSIRO have attempted on numerous occasions to engage with members of the CSIRO CEO, the CSIRO Executive, the CSIRO Chairman and the CSIRO Board of Directors but in our nearly four years of existence have received no positive response to such overtures. Trust is a two way street and the CSIRO needs to be willing to engage with victims and their advocates in a meaningful way in order to demonstrate that such trust is more than a superficial marketing ploy.
Alex’s presentation describes the steps by CSIRO taken in relation to the Improvement Notice issued by Comcare in 2013 as a result of its treatment of one of its senior researchers, which includes the provision of face to face training for staff in the division in which the notifiable incidents occurred and the rolling out of online training throughout the organisation, the latter of which to CSIRO’s credit was not required as a remedy.
Victims of CSIRO would however question the effectiveness of on-line training, particularly as one Senior HR Manager was reportedly overheard in one of CSIRO’s staff cafeteria’s as stating that “the training was pointless and that there was no problem with bullying in CSIRO anyway”.
Anecdotally, it would appear that after bullying has not abated nor declined as a result of the provision of online training to all staff and incidents may have actually increased. Victims of CSIRO are certainly aware of a number of psychological injury claims accepted by Comcare in and around the time of the online training, two of which were accepted by Comcare in relation to the same CSIRO worksite within one week of another.
It should come as no surprise that the worksite in which this occurred was also the same site at which the aforementioned Senior HR Manager was employed!
Provision of education on workplace bullying will only go so far without the willingness of the CSIRO to actually enforce its anti-bullying policies and sanction those engaging in such behaviour as we have stated many times before in our articles.
It would appear that the CSIRO is still unwilling to sanction those engaging in or supporting such abhorrent behaviours, particularly within its middle and senior management ranks and this is why no amount of education will ultimately prove successful.
In relation to the external investigation, we would again like to relay that the terms of reference were so narrow as to be exclusive of the majority of potential complainants which, whether intentionally or otherwise precluded the participation of hundreds more complaints.
The obvious lack of stakeholder engagement all but guaranteed the terms of reference would not serve the interests of victims of workplace bullying and the interference of members of the CSIRO executive hampered the independence of the investigation.
More critically, the investigator failed to adhere to the proper investigative processes by paraphrasing and removing from consideration elements of complaints, particularly those relating to failure of CSIRO to properly manage the complaints and in failing to provide a right of reply to complainants in the event that a contention of facts occurred.
Two complaints out of 130 in such an investigation process are statistically anomalous and further support our criticisms in relation to the conduct of the investigation team.
To date, despite writing to the chairman of the CSIRO Board, CSIRO have been unwilling to engage with the Victims of CSIRO group in order to discuss and understand our concerns in relation to the investigation and those of victims who found the investigation to be significantly lacking and in many cases offensive.
Again we would like to restate our willingness to engage with CSIRO management in relation to workplace bullying issues within the organisation but as yet have received no overtures from CSIRO in relation to any such discussions.
One critical failure of the presentation ignores the central fact: there would be no basis for making the complaints if the original bullying had not occurred or if CSIRO had followed up and taken action against the bullying staff. In practice CSIRO has demonstrated that it condones the behaviour of bullying staff by doing nothing about it, by denying court and Tribunal findings against CSIRO staff and by setting up an Inquiry whose terms of reference were designed to cover up the bullying.
Comcare, the Commonwealth Workplace Health and Safety body itself must take a share of the blame as Comcare have consistently failed to investigate complaints of workplace bullying within the CSIRO and continues to promote CSIRO as a poster child of reform whilst critically ignoring the growing number of psychological complaints arising out of workplace bullying within the CSIRO.
We do not believe that CSIRO has learned from its mistakes and that as long as the organisation continues to use smoke and mirrors in order to daze and confuse those around it into believing that they are truly and sincerely addressing the problem rather than simply applying a generous slather of window dressing, groups such as the Victims of CSIRO will continue to be necessary.