||Issue No. 145||19 July 2002|
Two Wings Flapping
Interview: In The Tent
Bad Boss: The Desk Nazi
Media: Hold the Presses
Workplace: Putting Bullies In Their Place
Industrial: Women and Work
International: Whine and Dine
History: Black Adder
Review: Bad Movie
Poetry: I Remember
The Locker Room
Week in Review
Hooray for Frank!
Reform or Die
Putting Bullies In Their Place
By Tara de Boehmler
These days between 25% and 50% of workers are likely to experience bullying at some time during their career - a situation that has prompted NSW Labor Council and the Workers Health Centre to begin drafting a workplace bullying policy.
The policy is sure to be welcomed by one victim who this week decided to go public with her plight. Marion worked as a welfare officer in Australian correctional centres for more than 10 years before becoming a victim of bullying herself.
Marion says her supervisor began a campaign of bullying and intimidation against her after she failed to complete an additional task she was given, apparently due to a lack of time and resources.
Immediately pulling in the facility's acting governor and the acting chief welfare officer, Marion says her supervisor ensured he had the weight of the department behind him when he confronted her about her 'inability' to follow his instruction. Their joint confrontation - dressed up as a mediation session - left her little hope she was in for a fair hearing.
Soon after, and amid escalating demands being placed upon her, Marion says she was ordered to relocate her office. She was ordered to move to part of the prison where she would be the only worker present on most days and which came fitted with only a fire alarm to ring in case she needed assistance. Aside from that, it was largely just her and the inmates, she says.
Marion says her ongoing treatment by this stage had eroded her faith in the internal complaint mechanisms and left her with little choice to go external - to her union and WorkCover - with her concerns.
She lost her appetite, was unable to sleep and dreaded going into work. But she says two of the worst things were not knowing whom to turn to for support and feeling as though nothing she could do would change the workplace culture enough to stop it from reoccurring in the future.
Marion is now on stress leave while, for the person who initiated the bullying - her direct supervisor - business continues as usual.
There is nothing unusual about Marion's situation, according to the Workers Health Centre's Peggy Trompf. Peggy has heard so many bullying horror stories that she has now started working in conjunction with NSW Labor Council to come up with a policy to try and weed out bullying behaviour from Australian workplaces.
Peggy says a firm policy on bullying is desperately needed to let all employees - from the heads of organisations down - know that they are equally bound by legislation that leaves no room for harassment.
It would outline a clear set of steps for victims, perpetrators and employers to take when bullying situations arise, outline responsibilities, and help people identify what does and does not constitute bullying behaviour. It would also ensure a consistent and appropriate approach is taken in dealing with the problem, without causing yet more harm to the victim.
Peggy says the policy would be adopted by individual employers through the enterprise agreement process, enabling it to be enforced in the IRC.
What is certain is that current measures commonly used by employers are not working. One of the most common of these, mediation, simply cannot work, according to PSA Industrial Officer Andrew Wilson.
"Mediation offers employers an opportunity to avoid taking responsibility for workplace bullying," Andrew says.
He says employers often want to see bulling as being a "mere disagreement between employees at work."
"That way it is the responsibility of the employees involved and not the organisation," he says.
Mediation involves an independent person sitting down with people who have some form of disagreement to assist them to resolve their differences. The mediator will usually meet with the opposing parties separately at first before convening a meeting where they are bought together. Mediation is voluntary and relies on the goodwill of the parties to succeed.
Andrew says mediation presumes that the fault for the disagreement lies relatively equally with both parties. Yet "bullying cases are characterised by the fault lying overwhelmingly with one party."
"It can be extremely traumatic for victims to be bought to the same table as those who have bullied them to talk about it, especially if the face accusations they are lying or that their work performance was not up to standard," he says.
Andrew says bullying is best addressed through disciplinary action or intervention aimed at behavioural change. "Professional counsellors who challenge bullies about their violent and inappropriate behaviour have a role in dealing with workplace bullying. In some cases this has lead to a bullying-free workplace. However when such intervention is not successful, bullies need to be disciplined".
NSW Labor Council and the Workers Health Centre's bullying policy aims to ensure this vital step becomes part of the process.
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