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Issue #1556      18 July 2012

Tougher penalties for stopping workplace bullying

Workplace bullying is a hidden problem in Australian workplaces and must be treated as seriously as other physical hazards to workers, unions have told a Parliamentary inquiry.

The ACTU’s submission to the House of Representatives inquiry into workplace bullying recommends tougher penalties, including jail terms for extreme cases, and a greater recognition that employers have a responsibility to provide a bullying-free workplace.

Research by the Productivity Commission found workplace bullying is costing the economy $6 billion to $36 billion per year, on top of the human costs for victims and their families.

ACTU assistant secretary Michael Borowick, who will give evidence to the inquiry in Melbourne, said workplace bullying was a health and safety issue that had been neglected for too long.

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

“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.”

He said bullying needed 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 said that complaints of bullying needed to be dealt with as early as possible.

“We need a forum to easily resolve bullying complaints before they escalate. Bullying behaviour on its own should be enough to trigger a complaint, rather than waiting for an injury to occur.”

“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.”  

Next article – Fewer jobs doesn’t equal greater efficiency

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