Short contracts blamed for culture of bullying in public service
SHORT-TERM contracts are being blamed for poor management within the Northern Territory public service as the Henderson Labor government faces pressure to stamp out bullying and harassment among workers.
A survey of the Territory's 17,000 public servants this week revealed 43 per cent say they've suffered workplace bullying and harassment,, although some of the alleged behaviour was no more serious than petty criticism of their work.
A quarter of all Territory public servants participated in the survey and only 54 per cent say bullying and harassment is not a problem in their office. Twenty-two per cent reported they were bullied or harassed in the past year. Of these workers, 67 per cent complained to someone in authority, but only 28 per cent said they were satisfied with how the matter was handled.
The most common source of alleged bullying was managers and supervisors, followed by other employees.
Workers accused management of intimidating body language, nitpicking, withholding vital job information and unfair treatment.
The Community and Public Sector Union's regional director Paul Morris says many public servants were reluctant to participate in the survey because they feared the computerised answer system would allow their views to fall into the hands of superiors.
"People were worried there'd be some retribution from a manager if they were too open and honest," Morris tells Inquirer.
Fully 26 per cent of managers in the Territory's public service are on temporary contracts and are under pressure to prove themselves, Morris says. "Some of the managers are out to prove themselves in a short period of time and tend to get a little heavy-handed in order to hang on to their contract. This culture of short-term contracts can breed a culture of poor management [and] lead to a culture of bullying."
He has called on the public employment commissioner to investigate the bullying allegations and invest more in training managers.
Territory Public Employment Commissioner Ken Simpson has given assurances that survey confidentiality will not be breached. He says comments to the contrary are unhelpful and may discourage people from participating in the next survey, due next year.
Simpson says while he takes note of the sentiments expressed, "there are always two sides to the story" in cases of bullying. "Many of the complaints that are raised using the word bullying quite often refer to issues that have arisen in a particular workplace around a person's performance."
He says the survey is a way of ensuring staff get proper feedback and at the same time it acts as a reminder of their obligations. "For the first time we've asked the question about what our staff think about the public service and it gives us a lead into areas we need to pay attention to."
The Territory opposition has seized on the survey.
Country Liberal MP John Elferink has blamed the situation on a leadership vacuum within the government of Chief Minister Paul Henderson as reason for sour faces in the public service.
Aside from the personal cost, it's estimated bullying incidents on average cost $20,000 to an organisation in lost productivity and output, Elferink says.