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October 2004   

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.


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.


The Premiership Quarter
After spending the past month with a decidedly sinking feeling, there’s a whiff of hope and expectation that the Howard era could actually be coming to an end.


 Kev Cooks the Books

 Black Hole In Libs Kids Plan

 Xerox Copies Waterfront Tactics

 Hardies Asbestos Woes "Snowballs"

 Air Fleet Grounded By Job Cuts

 Musos Lung For Better

 Customs Officers Declare

 Dumbing Down The Trades

 Pacific National Sidetracks Hunter Jobs

 Witch Hunt For Whistleblower

 Black Diamond Deaths Spark Mining Inquiry

 Pensioners Strip Over Pension Strip

 Activists What's On!

 Donkey Vote
 Problem Solved
 How To Run Society
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No Bully For You

Phil Doyle reports on how bringing dignity and respect to the workplace is undermining bullies.


When John McPhilbin strode to the microphone at the Sydney Opera House last month he was a nervous man.

McPhilbin, a former soldier who had undergone interrogation training, had come to tell how systematic bullying at Chubb Security had destroyed his physical and psychological health.

The Opera House conference had been called by the NSW Labor Council to tackle the problem of bullying at work.

McPhilbin, who blew the whistle on bullying at the security firm, dedicated his speech to the family of Linda Costa, who committed suicide after bullying and harassment at the Speedo factory in Windsor.

Linda's two daughters, Aimee and Melissa, attended the conference and told of the need for the perpetrators of bullying to be prosecuted.

"Our mum is dead as a result of bullying," says Aimee Costa. "But we want to make sure it doesn't happen to anyone else."

McPhilbin came forward to back the NSW Labor Council's campaign against the "nightmare" of workplace bullying.

"I was an extremely loyal Chubb employee and as a result I'm unemployed," says McPhilbin, who worked eight years with the security firm.

In 2000, despite repeated requests, McPhilbin could not even get a basic job description. As a result McPhilbin felt "ignored, downgraded, threatened, isolated and financially disadvantaged."

A Chubb internal investigation supports McPhilbin's claims about company behaviour, describing its conduct as "less than satisfactory".

McPhilbin, who had been told on his move to Project Phoenix' that his career was "on the up and up", is under no illusion as to why Chubb management bullied him.

"Because I asserted myself I became a target," says McPhilbin. "Chubb does not respect fair employment practices, occupational health and safety laws, or the welfare of their staff."

"All I ever asked for was respect as an employee and a safe workplace, free from harassment."

Medical experts have backed McPhilbin's claims of the physical and emotional impairment resulting from his prolonged exposure to a hostile workplace.

Colleagues backed McPhilbin with Robert Moore, who worked his way up from guard to business manager, being demoted in a move he attributes to his "association with John McPhilbin".

"As a result of the treatment I became highly agitated, had high blood pressure, was physically shaking, I was unable to sleep, had difficulty in concentration and ability to drive."

Moore's health problems have been diagnosed by a doctor as being "totally work related".

Hundreds of union delegates attended the first ever conference dedicated to tackling workplace bullying.

The conference launched the NSW Labor Council's Dignity and Respect in the Workplace Charter.

The Charter has been developed to give workplaces a "road map" towards developing anti-bullying policies and was a response to what the Labor Council has identified as the number one OHS issue

The NSW Premier's Department became the first employer to formally sign the charter; the Western Area Health Service closely followed them.

Labor Council secretary John Robertson said a survey of 840 workers found that 74 percent of respondents said they had been the victim of workplace bullying, while 56 per cent of respondents believed there was a culture of workplace bullying at their workplace

"These figures show that workplace bullying is a growing problem in workplaces and that more and more workers feel they are the victims of bullies - both managers and fellow workers," says Robertson. "What is required is a commitment from employers to create a culture where workers feel not just physically safe, but psychologically safe as well.

"The changes to the workplace over the last 20 years have created an environment that pits worker against worker.

"We wouldn't allow kids to bully in the playground, so why should we allow it at work."

"The Dignity at Work Charter being launched today is a clear statement from workers and managers that they will not tolerate this sort of behaviour."

Clinical psychologist Keryl Egan revealed profiling that could identify "psychotic bullies" who terrorise workplaces.

Egan told the conference bullies came in three types - 'accidental' bullies who bully when they're under stress, 'destructive' bullies who lash out when challenged, and 'psychotic bullies', who bully "because they can".

Bullying has emerged as a leading health and safety issue in recent years with the issue being a big talking point at last year's Public Service Association (PSA) Women's Conference.

"Members who attended the conference identified bullying as an emerging and serious issue in the workplace," says Sue Walsh, president of the PSA. "Association members employed by the Department of Education and Training (DET) were recently surveyed to determine whether bullying was widespread in the Department. The results of the survey are alarming and show the devastation of this unacceptable behaviour."

The results of the DET survey were tabled at the Opera House Conference last month.

The rise in bullying as a workplace safety issue has seen safety authorities begin to act.

A Victorian radio announcer who slapped, verbally abused and threatened his colleagues was silenced with a $10,000 fine.

The decision is believed to be the first conviction for verbal bullying in Victoria.

In NSW, Chief Industrial Magistrate Miller handed down fines of $25 000 for a company and $10 000 for individual directors.

This was over an incident where an asthmatic 16-year-old labourer had his mouth filled with sawdust and glue and was left on a trolley near a four-metre drop for half an hour.

In handing down his decision Miller outlined five steps that employers should take in tackling bullying.

The five points formed the basis of the NSW Labor Council's Dignity and respect in the Workplace Charter.

In NSW safety laws require employers to protect workers from psychological hazards such as bullying. Employers must have in place systems that manage the risk of bullying in the workplace.

As the Linda Costa story revealed, failing to address bullying can have deadly consequences.

Psychologist Meddwyn Coleman told a forum organised by the Bendigo Trades Hall Council last year that workplace bullying lay behind the suicide deaths of three Victorian workers.

Coleman, with 25 years experience in counselling victims, is for the first time starting to see suicides that are related to workplace bullying.

In one instance an apprentice became seriously depressed following repeated 'hazing' or initiation rituals that made him look like an idiot and set him up to fail. Eventually he took his own life. The tragedy was compounded when his sister also took her life because of his death.

Coleman said that while bullying was not always just a "top-down" phenomenon it had increased with the embracing of "economic rationalism as the dominant ideology".

"The root of bullying behaviour is often insecurity and personal envy of the targeted victim," Coleman told the Bendigo Trades Hall Forum. Coleman advised bullying victims to not try to cope with the situation alone.

The website UnionSafe has prepared a comprehensive anti-bullying campaign package for workplaces, including the Dignity and Respect in the Workplace Charter.

If you or someone you know is considering or affected by suicide please call Lifeline on 13 11 14


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