Interview: The Last Bastian
Unions: High and Dry
Security: Liquid Borders
Industrial: No Bully For You
History: Radical Brisbane
International: No Vacancies
Economics: Life After Capitalism
Technology: Cyber Winners
Poetry: Do It Yourself Poetry
Review: Hard Labo(u)r
The Locker Room
The Premiership Quarter
How To Run Society
No Bully For You
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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