Unions, businesses call on tougher penalties and community responsibility to stop workplace bullying

Workplace bullying must be addressed seriously and should be everyone’s responsibility, says unions and business organisations in response to the federal government’s bullying inquiry.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) appeared before a House Standing Committee on Education and Employment in Melbourne this month to talk about the challenges that employers and the community are facing because of workplace bullying.

ACCI Chief Executive, Peter Anderson said that workplace bullying should be addressed in a holistic fashion and should not just be limited to the workplace environment.

“Employers are keen to do their part to try to help eradicate anti-social and violent behaviour in the workplace. It’s bad for business. A zero tolerance to serious misconduct, including bullying, generally applies and is needed,” said Mr Anderson.

“While the current inquiry is focused on bullying in the workplace, this problem has deeper roots. Bullying is a community problem that also requires a community response.

“In many cases patterns of behaviours that lead to bullying at work are already entrenched by the time a person joins the workforce. We see intolerant and disrespectful behaviour in the school yard, on the road and on sporting fields, not to mention in homes and on social networking sites.”

“Management can and must influence workplace cultures, but in many respects individual behaviour at work reflects attitudes and behaviour of our society.

“Nor does bullying respect workplace hierarchies. Like sexual harassment, bullying is unacceptable behaviour between employees as much as between management and staff.”

“Difficult as the issue is for managers, ACCI and Chambers of Commerce and Industry Associations are committed to providing resources to assist employers understand how to minimise the incidence of bullying and give effect to legal obligations.”

The Australian Council of Trade Unions’ (ACTU) submission to the inquiry recommends stricter penalties, including jail terms for extreme cases, and a greater recognition that employers must be responsible in ensuring a bullying-free workplace.

ACTU Assistant Secretary Michael Borowick said that workplace bullying was a workplace health and safety issue that had long been neglected.

“Although we need tougher penalties, it is more important that we change workplace culture to ensure bullying does not happen in the first place,” said Mr Borowick.

“Everyone is entitled to respect at work. The effects of bullying are serious, many people who are bullied report depression or other mental health issues and have difficulty returning to work.

“It is not good enough for employers to ignore this issue. Every workplace should have policies and procedures to deal with bullying and harassment, and employers should acknowledge their responsibility to provide a safe and harassment-free environment for all their workers.

“Bullying needs to be explicitly defined in workplace health and safety laws and the penalties of serious incidents of workplace bullying should match those for other major breaches of health and safety. This should include the potential of imprisonment.”

Mr Borowick also said that bullying complaints should be given attention as early as possible.

“Over 2.2 million Australians are in some insecure work arrangement, such as casual, contract or labour hire work. These workers are particularly vulnerable to workplace bullying because they are often unable to speak up for fear of losing their jobs,” he said.


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