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Issue No. 242 15 October 2004  

Historical Revisions
It was a common refrain on Saturday night as we cried in our beers, hurled vitriol at the TV set and wondered how big the shellacking would be this time around: Howard won on a lie.


Interview: The Last Bastian
AMWU state secretary Paul Bastian has been at the centre of the three year battle to bring James Hardie to account.

Unions: High and Dry
Jim Marr unpacks the recent High Court Electrolux decision to test whether the ruling matches the media hype.

Security: Liquid Borders
The Howard Government loves to trumpet its national security credentials but a close look at its record in shipping sinks the myth argues MUA’s Zoe Reynolds.

Industrial: No Bully For You
Phil Doyle reports on how bringing dignity and respect to the workplace is undermining bullies.

History: Radical Brisbane
Radical Brisbane extends the 'Radical City' series into the Red North. Two experienced activists, academics and writers turn South East Queensland history on its head.

International: No Vacancies
More than 1400 hotel union workers, members of UNITE HERE Local 2, are on strike at four major hotels in San Francisco, California, writes Andrew Casey.

Economics: Life After Capitalism
A situation that all anarchists dream of? Michael Albert has been more than dreaming., writes Neale Towart

Technology: Cyber Winners
Labourstart's Eric Lee looks at a good news story of global online campaigning that has delivered a victory.

Poetry: Do It Yourself Poetry
Teaser: Wondering why the polls are all over the place? Ask our resident bard and psephologist.

Review: Hard Labo(u)r
The Voice of Southern Labor highlights the role music played in the 1930's US textile strikes, but more than that it provides a lucid insight into the roots of modern capitalism and some truly organic organising, writes Tara de Boehmler.


 Don’t Worry, Be Organised

 Senate Faces Family Fight

 Cheques Cashed In Seconds

 "Undemocractic" Taskforce Court Out

 Power to People: On Hold

 Eyes Have It Over Lotto

 Bomb in Santa’s Sack

 No Picnic in Park

 Smoking Loophole A Bit Rich

 BlueScope Workers Take Stock

 ABC Radio Clash

 Melbourne Goes Global

 No Justice for Joel

 Mercury Falling in Hobart

 Last Gasp for Monitoring

 Kiddie Photos Victory

 Thousands Up for Grabs

 Activists What's On!


True Lies
Labor Council secretary John Robertson argues It’s Time – for an IR reality check.

The Westie Wing
Much work has been done in the past to ease the plight of clothing outworkers in New South Wales. It's time to step up the pressure, as sweatshops and clothing contract work are thriving stronger than ever, writes Ian West.

The Soapbox
Who Started the Class War?
Evan Jones looks across the Australian political landscape and asks who are the real class warriors?

The Locker Room
First Past The Post
Phil Doyle is coming up in class and is all the better for recent racing

Westie Wing
Our favourite state MP returns for his monthly Macquarie Street wrap.

Positive Action
Australian unionists are helping give hope to Filipino workers living with HIV/AIDS.

 Giving Your Soul Away
 Invest in Dignity Part III
 You Need Help
 Medicare Woes
 Whose Party Is It Anyway?
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Letters to the Editor

Invest in Dignity Part III

Dear Editor

I am seriously considering writing a book on the merits of investing in

companies that truely respect and invest in their people - I could call it

'101 Reasons Why You Should Invest In People Friendly Companies'.

So impressed was I that I purchased the rights to utilise the attached

report (THE HIGH PRICE OF PSYCHOLOGICAL INJURY. It cost me $95.00, but it

was well worth the investment.

I also suspect that the increases in psychological injuries may even

correlate to what you refered to in your original article..."it is all about

the management of personal relationships - whether it is the worker bullied

by unreasonable workloads or the apprentice bullied in the initiation

ceremony, bullying speaks to a breakdown of dignity at work"

WorkCover have already stated that "In 2001 the Qld Bullying Taskforce

estimated the annual cost of bullying to the Australian economy is between

$6 and $13 billion. Could it actually be that this breakdown of dignity at

work, will eventually catch up with us all, and who will have to foot the



Key Points

§ Workers compensation claims for psychological injury are increasing.

§ One recent case= $500,000 damages.

§ Employers required by law to provide safe workplaces, free from

prolonged work-related stress.

§ Failure to have safe system of work is enough for employer to be


Workers compensation claims for workplace-related psychological injury have

jumped in recent years and there is no sign they are on the decline.

Moreover, the cost of these claims is high when compared with other types of

injury, with one employee in a recent case awarded almost $500,000 in

damages from his employer.

In 2002-2003, while stress claims made to the workers compensation insurer

for the Commonwealth Government, Comcare, accounted for only 6% of total

workers compensation claims, they accounted for nearly 21% of total claims

payouts. And according to other Comcare figures, psychological injuries cost

four times as much and take longer to resolve than other workers

compensation claims.

What is psychological injury?

Depression, anxiety and neuroses are among the most common psychological

workplace injuries. They may result from prolonged or excessive exposure to

demanding, stressful stimuli, such as work-related factors and/or critical

incidents. And most psychological injuries develop over a long period of


When initially faced with stressful stimuli, the body releases hormones that

increase the heart rate, blood pressure, breathing and muscle tension. These

create a state of mental and physical arousal in anticipation of a response

to the stimuli.

If stimuli are prolonged and excessive, the body attempts to adapt. If the

adaptation is over an extended period it can create exhaustion and provide

little opportunity for the body to recover from its stressed state. Over a

prolonged period, stress can make an individual susceptible to psychological

injury. Physical ailments can also occur, such as headaches, back and neck

strain, nausea and constipation.

Not all employees respond to stressful stimuli in the same way. Responses

vary depending on an individual's expectations and their capacity to deal

with demanding work-related factors. As a result, managers must avoid

relying on their own personal coping mechanisms as a guide to how much

stress employees can handle.

At the same time, not all stressful stimuli are negative. A certain level of

stimulus may motivate an employee to creatively and successfully complete


However, while individual employee expectations and capacity to cope may

determine the extent of a response, it is work-related factors that trigger

the response. A combination of high job demand and low job control is one of

the most common work-related factors put forward to explain the work-stress

response. In particular, low job control is seen as a major source of


Employer liability

Under Australian occupational health and safety (OHS) statutory law and

common law, employers must provide safe workplaces. This includes taking

practical steps to identify, assess and control reasonably foreseeable

psychological risks.

Under OHS statutory law, a psychological injury does not have to occur for

an employer to be in breach of OHS law. Failure to have a safe system of

work is enough to be charged and prosecuted.

Under common law, an employee with a psychological injury may be able to sue

an employer for negligence and be awarded damages.

The State of NSW v Coffey [2002] NSWCA 361, 7 November 2002 (Meagher, Heydon

and Ipp JJA), is an example of how an employer's common law duty may play

out in Court. The Court of Appeal found employers have a responsibility to

ensure the psychological health and safety of their workers. A NSW Housing

Commission caretaker received threats and abuse from tenants and had

witnessed murders and suicides, which he reported to his employer. He also

asked his employer to erect a security screen at his office counter, but the

employer refused.

The caretaker resigned from his job after eight years of service with

depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. The Court of Appeal held the

risk of psychological injury was reasonably foreseeable, but the employer

had failed to act. The employer could have considered rotating the employee

into other positions, monitoring the employee's coping ability and ensuring

he received ongoing counselling.

Although the employer offered a counselling service, it was up to the

employee to seek it out. According to the court, this was not sufficient to

„absolve" the employer from its duty of care to provide a safe system of

work. The employee was awarded $459,478 in damages.

Workers compensation laws

Under Australian workers compensation laws, psychological injury can be

compensated if work contributes to the injury or aggravates an existing

injury. The workplace does not have to be the dominant or the only cause,

but it must be a substantial cause of the injury.

Depending on the injury, compensation may include benefits such as weekly

payments, medical treatment, rehabilitation and lump sum payments for

permanent impairment (as opposed to common law damages).

Employees who are awarded common law damages will have their access to

workers compensation benefits ceased or restricted.

Injuries resulting from reasonable managerial direction, such as

retrenchment or addressing an employee's wilful misconduct are not covered

by workers compensation. However, if retrenchment and other managerial

directions are handled in an unreasonable manner then there could be grounds

for a stress claim.

In Jaksic v WorkCover/Allianz Australia Workers Compensation (SA) Ltd

(Konica Australia Pty Ltd) [2004] SAWCT 17A, the SA Workers Compensation

Tribunal found the workplace contributed to an employee's anxiety and set

aside WorkCover SA's denial of the employee's claim.

WorkCover had argued it was a disciplinary interview that caused the

employee's anxiety; therefore the stress claim could be denied. However, the

judge found other action, not just the disciplinary action, contributed to

the employee's injury.

The employee's supervisor arrived at work one morning to find the warehouse

gate had been left open by the employee and decided to teach the employee a

lesson in securing the warehouse. The supervisor hid equipment from the

employee then asked the employee to find it. The employee could not. The

supervisor then revealed the equipment, indicating the workplace was not

secure. The employee became anxious and left work. The employee had a

history of not adhering to workplace policies and was in the process of

being counselled over this. The employee also had a history of anxiety. The

judge subsequently found that hiding the equipment had been unreasonable and

the employer should have foreseen it would cause the employee to become


Disability discrimination laws

Employers must also understand their obligations under disability

discrimination laws. An employer cannot use a psychological injury as the

reason for dismissing an employee if the employee still can carry out the

basic job requirements.

In Power v Aboriginal Hostels Limited [2003] FCA 1475 the Federal Court set

aside an earlier Federal Magistrate's Court ruling, which found an

employer's decision to terminate an employee suffering from clinical

depression was reasonable. According to the Federal Court, the Federal

Magistrate failed to consider if the employee was unable to perform his

on-call duties.

Privacy laws

Employers should also have regard for privacy laws. Federal laws impose

certain obligations on the collection, use and storage of certain

information. Health information is considered sensitive under federal

privacy laws. Employers must ask permission before collecting such

information and do not have an unfettered right to use such information.

Preventing psychological injury

To ensure all workers are reasonably protected from psychological risks,

employers should address stressful work-related stimuli, not just employees'

stress responses.

Specific stressful stimuli may include, but not be limited to:

§ controlling management style;

§ poor consultation;

§ blaming culture;

§ unclear job description;

§ inadequate training;

§ poor recruitment techniques;

§ unexplained constant change;

§ intense, fast-paced work;

§ repetitive and boring work;

§ unsupportive work environment;

§ interpersonal conflict;

§ critical incidents;

§ poor ergonomics;

§ lack of flexibility, poor salaries and poor working conditions.

Employers should also be aware of the substantial indirect costs of

psychological injury. They can have a negative impact on a workforce's

productivity, morale, turnover, motivation, absenteeism and relationships.

Managers should take the lead and demonstrate the importance of preventing

workplace psychological injuries at both the organisational and the

individual level.

Kind regards

John McPhilbin


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