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22 September 2010
EXCLUSIVE: The Irony, Australian WorkCover Authority That Helps Investigate Bullying & Harassment in the Workplace, has been covering up its own bully
Intimidation and fear: welcome to agency charged with stamping out bullying
THE state government agency responsible for investigating workplace bullying is harbouring a serious bullying problem in its own ranks which it has been attempting to keep quiet.
There was a ''pattern'' of bullying within WorkCover's Licensing Solutions Unit, the agency's money-spinning department that approves workers to drive forklifts, operate cranes and work on construction sites, an investigation last year found. But the report has been buried and the agency has attempted to cover up the problem, telling its minister it revealed no bullying.
The inquiry, conducted by one of WorkCover's own safety inspectors, Petar Ankucic, found bullying had been ''occurring for a prolonged period of time and that various factors, including selective supervision, multiple chains of command, workload equity, continuous negative feedback and a somewhat autocratic management style … have contributed to unintended bullying''.
But when the Finance Minister, Michael Daley, was asked about the bullying, he twice denied it existed. In May he told Parliament: ''The investigation revealed no evidence of bullying as defined in the WorkCover publication, Preventing and Dealing with Workplace Bullying.''
A senior manager told workers in April there was no bullying in the department. But the report noted staff cried when interviewed. They also showed a ''mixture of intense dislike, fear and almost hatred'' towards two of their bosses.
In a follow-up review, the atmosphere improved, but Mr Ankucic said the ''seemingly calm work environment … is still very fragile and … is best described as a good work in progress".
A Herald investigation has discovered the agency is still plagued by mistrust and fear. A number of current and former employees claimed bullying was rife within the Gosford-based organisation.
Licensing officer Paul Newton, fed up with the ''spying'' and ''controlling'', resigned last week. He said colleagues had been reduced to tears and likened the workplace culture to East Germany. ''It's like the Stasi,'' he said.
''I just think it's terrible that an organisation that exists to protect the emotional and physical well-being of people in the workplace fails to protect the emotional well-being of its staff.''
An online survey of 816 WorkCover staff in April, seen by theHerald, showed problems extended beyond the licensing unit.
Almost 60 per cent were not convinced people avoided politics and back-stabbing and only one-third believed management was almost always ''honest and ethical''. Just 20 per cent thought it was nearly always an emotionally and psychologically healthy place to work.
''Licensing is the bullying hot spot, but not the only place that has problems,'' a worker said.
"WorkCover's just so demoralised.''
A spokeswoman for WorkCover said it had firm internal policies to prevent and address bullying. ''All reports of bullying are taken seriously and investigated on the evidence,'' she said.
''A culture survey conducted in 2010 … found that 66 per cent of staff found WorkCover 'a great place to work'.''
In the five years to mid-2007 there were more than 4000 workers compensation claims for harassment or bullying in NSW, costing $80 million.
Queries about dealing with workplace bullying are now among the top five reasons people contact WorkCover's information centre.
'I hate working at WorkCover.'
Paul Newton, who resigned from the agency this month, said managers used bullying and favouritism, sometimes subtly, as a means of ''controlling staff''. Colleagues were encouraged to spy on each other and collect information to be used against workmates. "It's like orchestrated management bullying," he said.
'My hair started falling out.'
A former long-term staff member, granted workers compensation for work-related depression arising from bullying, said she was so stressed her hair fell out in clumps. One manager turned an allegation of bullying against an individual into a ''bitch fest''. The woman said she was accused of bullying without explanation. "During this time I was a mess.''
WorkCover is the state government agency responsible for providing "safe, secure and productive workplaces", which includes "preventing and dealing with workplace bullying", its website says.
The Licensing Solutions Unit approves workers to drive forklifts, operate cranes and work on construction sites.
Mr Daley said he had been previously told by WorkCover that the agency was addressing the problem but wanted to be sure the alleged harassment was stopped.
He has asked the director general of the Department of Premier and Cabinet to commission an independent review of the allegations.
"Due to WorkCover's role as the regulator of workplace safety, including bullying matters, I have requested that this review be conducted by somebody independent from WorkCover and the government," Mr Daley said in a statement.
"Bullying and intimidation in any workplace is unacceptable."
The Greens said a premier's department probe does not go far enough and a parliamentary inquiry should be held.
"If WorkCover can't stop bullying in its own ranks, how can it be up to doing its job in other workplaces in NSW?" Greens MP and the party's industrial relations spokesman, David Shoebridge, said.
"Neither WorkCover, nor this government, can be trusted with getting to the bottom of this.
"We must have an open and accountable parliamentary enquiry into WorkCover's palpable failure to deal with bullying.
"It is not good enough to fob it off with another behind closed doors report on a report." source