Roundtable talks on workplace bullying

Joan Lemaire
Senior Vice President

The Public Service Commission has initiated “roundtable” discussions with Unions NSW and unions representing teachers, nurses and other public sector workers to consider how to address the issue of bullying in public sector workplaces.

The roundtable process will provide an opportunity for the public sector unions and the Public Service Commission to focus on the factors that give rise to workplace bullying and consider research and existing practice in determining more effective strategies for preventing and dealing with workplace bullying.

The Public Service Commission decided to set up the roundtable following their survey of public sector workers which was reported in the first State of the NSW Public Sector Report: How it is. The survey results revealed that 29 per cent of respondents reported having experienced bullying at work and 48 per cent said they had witnessed bullying at work. In the Department of Education and Communities respondents reported that last year 29 per cent of employees had experienced bullying in the workplace in the past year and 50 per cent had witnessed bullying in that period. The respondents reported that the types of bullying experienced most frequently related to intimidation, exclusion/isolation, verbal abuse and psychological harassment.

These results demonstrate that existing policies and procedures including the Dignity and Respect in the Workplace Charter, the Prevention of Bullying in the Workplace Policy and Complaints Handling Policy or the implementation of these policies have not been effective in managing the risks posed by workplace bullying.

Perhaps one of the most disturbing findings of the survey is that 81 per cent of the respondents who had reported having been bullied in the 12 months failed to lodge a formal complaint about the alleged bullying. The failure to make these complaints suggests that many employees may be afraid to make a complaint, or believe that the procedures to deal with complaints are not effective.

The survey questions related to the experience of individuals in the workplace but did not seek information around the perceived causes of workplace bullying. Federation raised the need to consider organisational factors such as lack of resources, staff cuts and workload issues which may impact on the working environment and contribute to the risk of bullying behaviour. The results of the survey may also indicate a need to consider the factors which contribute to workplace stress.

Federation welcomes the Public Service Commission’s decision to establish a roundtable which can explore the issues around workplace bullying and how more effective action can be taken to prevent and reduce the risks of workplace bullying. This will include consideration of current research and evidence on how to improve policies and procedures for dealing with workplace bullying.