Provide below are a list of stories which former CSIRO employees have permitted us to publish
Story of Mr R. – 12/06/2012
Mr. ‘R’ – is a certified technical expert with over 20 years experience in his field. He was employed by CSIRO IT up until the end of 2010 after 8 years of employment. During his tenure, his yearly performance appraisals were good and his salary and pay grades increased steadily reflecting his continuing commitment to the CSIRO. He always considered himself working for CSIRO not at CSIRO. Towards the end of 2010, due to his close working relationships with other CSIRO IT teams and strong personal friendships built up over this time; during the IT restructure process, he was one of three summarily suspended from duty pending investigation into breaches of the ‘CSIRO code of conduct’. That the CSIRO did not follow their own published procedures and commonwealth guidelines did not deter them from intimidating the people accused. Whilst the investigations were progressing Mr. ‘R’’s job was advertised on the internet leading Mr. ‘R’ to believe that the outcomes of the investigations were a foregone conclusion and that he would be terminated from his role. At which point, to save him from gaining a black mark on his record meaning he would be unable to work in any Australian public service positions in future, Mr. ‘R’ resigned from his role. Following a later freedom of information request, Mr. ‘R’ subsequently learned that an independent investigator had concluded that Mr ‘R’ had not in fact breached CSIRO’s code of conduct and, ultimately, would have received no more than a slap on the wrist. Following his resignation just before the annual Christmas holidays, which is a notoriously lean period for finding work, Mr ‘R’ began to suffer from mild depression. He was not able to successfully gain ongoing employment again until January 2012, a period of approximately 13 months, and is still aggrieved and struggling to cope with the betrayal he feels he had been dealt by a company whom he had given his all and which had fulfilled his life for so long and yet had no compunction in casting him side without a second thought.
Story of Mr H. – 13/06/2012
Mr H worked for CSIRO for almost 9 years from June 2002 until February 2011. In 2007, Mr H questioned what he felt to be inappropriate directions relating to the procurement of goods and services within his division. Mr H believes that as a result of raising the matter he was effectively sidelined and subsequently subjected to a prolonged period of undermining, discrediting and public humiliation. Mr H distanced himself from the untenable situation (to his detriment) after failing to receive appropriate support. Mr H was subsequently pressured to apologise unconditionally to the accused and retract his complaint without regard to judicial fairness. Mr was directed to apologise publically despite having only raised the complaint with the accused, her next-level manager, Mr H’s supervisor, and a CSIRO Staff Association representative in accordance with CSIRO policy.
These directions were unpalatable to Mr H, as was the assumption of wrong doing, and Mr H submitted a formal complaint of bullying in late 2007 which was subsequently investigated. Significant elements of the complaint were substantiated in the investigators report and the complaint was effectively upheld.
The report also identified that Mr H had been the subject of vicious attacks by other employees, some of whom he had never worked with and would not be able to recognise by face. Mr H believes this occurred as a result of his decision to exercise his legal rights and issue a complaint against the bully. The counter-complaints alleged that Mr H was sexist, a poor performer (despite rapid promotion, numerous awards and nominations) and vexatious in his complaints.
Of serious concern were comments made by his divisional head that she had censured Mr H in violation of all applicable due process and employment policies for a perceived infraction of which Mr H was never advised or provided an opportunity to respond. The investigators report summarily discredited theses accusations.
Mr H subsequently requested investigation of these accusations so that they could be resolved appropriately and judiciously, feeling largely that he was the target of an orchestrated campaign of victimisation as a result of his decision to exercise his legal rights. This request was repeated a number of times throughout the remainder of his employment, with the general response being silence, punctuated by the occasional, veiled suggestion that he might not like the response and other occasional threats of ‘unspecified legal action’ that might be enacted against him should he persist in having the matter investigated.
Mr H was involuntarily made redundant in early 2011 as a result of an ‘organisational restructure’ whilst undertaking a lengthy rehabilitation due to injuries suffered as a result of ongoing workplace difficulties and lack of any serious attempt at remediating such a toxic work environment.
In late 2010, Mr H was assessed as suffering from a total permanent impairment (10%) as a result of his workplace experiences.
To this day his complaints of victimisation have still not been appropriately investigated.
In addition to his own experiences, Mr H has encountered a significant number of other employees who have recounted disturbingly similar experiences. Mr H served in the role of a Health & Safety Representative (HSR), and as an elected workplace delegate throughout the majority of his employment and assisted numerous employees in addressing their own workplace difficulties.
Story of A – 16/07/2013
I resigned from CSIRO about 2 months ago, in all honesty this was probably one of the best decisions of my adult life and not a day goes by when I don’t feel relief at never having to return to my office again, or to work with a manager who basically made my job impossible for being who I am.
This may sound unreasonable, or even paranoid; but when you come out of a mediated meeting and get told that by the mediator then you know that what you suspected was true.
I emigrated to Australia to work for CSIRO, to a city where I knew no-one, despite having my start date put back by nearly a month only a week or so before I was due to start due to my managers commitments I was excited about all the opportunities and training I would get. On my first day I was taken aback when my new manager admitted that in five days he would go to the country I had just come from for a month, and that those five days were full of meetings-so we would only have time for a very short meeting before he left. Despite the fact I knew literally no-one I was not even introduced to my whole team-who were largely away for that month anyway, and tried to work out what exactly was expected and where I could get help with all of the logistical necessities of working at CSIRO. You would hope that in a new position the first thing that would happen would be to discuss the aims of the project, but in my situation this never happened, and every meeting until mid-way through my second month I found that important information had been with-held, thus making any progress impossible.
I also had an admission to make on my first day, in that I needed to go overseas to lead three workshops for around 150 people in total for a week the next month (which should have been my third month at CSIRO-with the original date), yet filing the forms was left so late that to my managers great shock I contacted the approvers who were more than happy to approve of me to go-but by that time (a month after arriving) it was the afternoon I was due to fly out.
Every time a deadline came up forms would be submitted literally minutes before they had to be approved. Every time I completed a piece of work it was ignored, unread, if I needed to put together a presentation-each version should be what was on the previous version-and when in desperation I asked for key-points, it was thrown back at me. Even when I paraphrased my manager it was still wrong. I found that even when standing I was constantly shaking, and that after each meeting my nails left marks in the palms of my hands, I found myself constantly grinding my teeth and started to have migraines on an almost daily basis. Every question asked by me was either deflected, dismissed or if really pushed thrown back at me, and despite the fact that in my eleven months at CSIRO not one single piece of my research was read by my manager-he would still tell me what it would be about, and refuse to talk about any written work I had developed. I started to work longer and longer days and every weekend, with typically 12-13 hours in the office, in an attempt to gain approval-but all this lead to was a criticism that I worked too long.
Then came my first probation, the meeting went surprisingly well (given how I felt), but when I was sent the form to sign (a week later, on the day it was due on and whilst I was at a conference) I found that the content had changed entirely-and was now a complete misrepresentation of what I did at CSIRO. I added my comments, which were then deleted by my manager and I had to rewrite a more “positive” version. I should have taken it to HR then, but I still foolishly thought that perhaps I could make it work.
I did however start to bring in mediation in my second month at CSIRO as I thought that a third party may aid communication between myself and my manager, though it never worked, and after every meeting I had to take at least 45 minutes to put myself back together.
My division at CSIRO was the first to have to respond to the claims by other victims of CSIRO and put in place a “mandatory” bullying and harassment workshop, a few hours of having unenforced policies read to us-whilst those that were too busy (i.e. my manager) were requested to do an on-line version instead.
As time progressed things got worse, sometimes after meetings I felt so stressed I would physically wretch, and could barely eat for days without needing to run to the bathroom. I brought in HR and a coach, and though I was told that I was not the problem by each outsider-I was also told that in my position I would just have to “suck it up”. I tried everything, but nothing worked and I was not able to move team. I stopped caring about almost anything, it’s amazing how debilitating chronic anxiety and depression can be-that even foods have no flavour, even the most trivial of decisions becomes impossible to commit too, and you assess the speed of every passing car.
At meetings with HR I had two basic requests, that we mutually agreed upon aims and created a plan of research, but like everything else this could not be agreed to. HRs strategy was to mediate meetings and advise, but there was no substantive action at any point and though the problems were acknowledged there was never any attempt to bridge them, and I was told to deal with it. When I talked to HR in private I was given the small purple phone shaped card with the number of the counselling service on it and told that as a CSIRO employee I was entitled to three sessions; this was their solution to the problems I was facing.
When I tried to get permission to give an invited (and externally funded) workshop, and all I needed was the time I was told I was too junior and had to take leave without pay. I contacted colleagues elsewhere about another position, and they were enthusiastic-the thought of getting out of CSIRO was the only thing that kept me going, and if my visa had not been tied to my job I would have left. I am also certain that without the lifeline provided by the potential job I would not be here now, I was in no state to apply once again for jobs and I had stopped caring, and there were times where I was unable to function, and came very close to taking what seemed the easiest option.
My job was untenable, and by the time I left colleagues from my own team said that they were going to advise me to resign for my own health. CSIRO cannot handle postdocs, they have no independence or often respect, and many of the postdocs I talked to thought that because of working for CSIRO, with no experience of teaching or grants, and other things they would be virtually unemployable in academia-infact I can honestly say that I do not know of a single happy postdoc at CSIRO. Working for CSIRO has scared me mentally and physically, and I will forever live with that legacy. However I do not write this for some malicious sense of vengeance against an institution which even talking about makes me feel sick and start shaking again, which I have nightmares about and which has still not handed in the forms that should have been submitted on the day I left; I write this to raise awareness and in the hope that perhaps my story will avert others from following my ill-fated path, and I hope push the long-shadows that CSIRO casts further into my past so I can move on.
Leaving CSIRO was the best decision of my adult life, though it took almost two months to start being able to make even the simplest of decisions again, or to really care about anything, and the stress effected me physically too. Every-day I am thankful not to have to go through another meeting, and even though I know that my manager still has not handed in my “leaving CSIRO forms” I know I never need to attempt to work with my manager. Despite the fact that everyone who mediated could see the problem was not me CSIRO still would not act to actually resolve the situation, as I was a postdoc-and so I was effectively disposable. I will also state here that five colleagues greeted the news I was leaving with a response that they were pleased for me to find my new position, as now we could actually work together, as within CSIRO my manager had completely prevented me developing almost any collaborations.
I found it hard to work in a culture where one member of our “team” (with a reputation as a “bully” throughout the division) was shielded and insulated, and where my manager prevented researchers taking their due leave, and often failed to credit their work on publications. I am only one voice among many of the victims of mismanagement and incompetency at CSIRO, and I do not write this for personal gain, but to protect others and to try to stop reliving the problems I faced there.