Overhaul of complaints action process needed

Joan Lemaire
Senior Vice President

The Department has commenced discussions with Federation on a review of the Complaints Handling Policy and Guidelines following Federation’s call for a substantial review to address concerns raised by members about the policy and procedures and their implementation.

The level of concern was demonstrated in the People Matter Survey in 2014 in which only 56 per cent of employees indicated they had confidence in the way the Department handled grievances.

Further, despite 83 per cent of employees indicating they were aware of the mechanism to resolve grievances, the survey showed that only 20 per cent of the respondents who reported having experienced bullying had made a complaint.

Issues raised by members with the current policy and guidelines include:

  • a lack of transparency and impartiality in responding to complaints
  • inadequate support for both complaints and respondents and fear of victimisation
  • excessive time taken to respond to complaints and/or make a decision
  • inappropriate appeal mechanisms
  • flawed process is in the “negotiation procedure” and “investigation procedure”.

Members’ concerns about how the policy and guidelines are implemented relate not only to how complaints between employees are addressed but also how complaints made by students, parents and community members are managed. Particular issues have been raised about unreasonable, violent, aggressive and/or threatening behaviour displayed by a small number of parents and community members when raising concerns or complaints related to the school.

Federation Council has recommended that complaints by students, parents and community members should be dealt with under a separate policy and procedure. This policy and procedure must include reference to unacceptable behaviour that puts staff and/or students at risk of injury and set out action that will be taken to ensure staff safety.

Consistent with the Council decision, Federation will pursue the changes listed below in relation to complaint-handling.

First, an option for the parties to resolve complaints of bullying in an informal way, aimed at mediation, which might be facilitated by an agreed facilitator or mediator who must be external to the workplace. This option would focus on resolution, not disciplinary action and must not be forced on the parties.

This process should be supported by the development of a specific training package for staff in schools to become facilitators or mediators. In addition, the Department should provide appropriate release and support for these facilitators/mediators in order to assist them to carry out their role either within their own school or another school.

Second, an investigation process and procedure that is independent, ensures procedural fairness, respects the rights and privacy of both complainants and respondents and operates within a reasonable timeframe. The investigation process should be separate from any disciplinary action.

Third, recognition that a complaint regarding bullying, harassment, threats and other aggressive behaviour should result in a risk assessment. This risk assessment should be separate from the complaints procedure and focus on minimising the risks posed by this behaviour in general terms rather than the subject of the complaint.

Fourth, discussion about the content of the Code of Conduct and the manner in which it is implemented.

This process for the review is expected to take a substantial period of time.

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