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Standing Committee on Education and Employment
12/07/2012
Workplace bullying

HARKINS, Mr Kevin, Secretary, Unions Tasmania

WELLS, Ms Nicole Mary, Senior Vice President, Unions Tasmania

Committee met at 11:26

CHAIR ( Ms Rishworth ): I declare open this third public hearing of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment inquiry into workplace bullying. The inquiry was announced by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and was referred to the committee in May. The minister has asked us to complement work currently underway to develop the code of practice on preventing and responding to workplace bullying and initiatives by state and territory governments.

The committee has received a strong response in its call for written submissions from organisations and experts in the field, as well as many individuals who have experienced bullying in the workplace. As well as the formal public program, which is broadcast and will be authorised for publication, the committee has set time aside to hear from individuals about their experiences of bullying in the workplace. To encourage maximum participation by individuals who may be reluctant to be publicly identified, the media will not be permitted to report these individual impact statements and none of the statements provided to the committee will be published. Others wishing to make statements or observe proceedings will be allowed to be present during this time. I ask individuals who are present and would like to make a statement about their experience of bullying in the workplace to please make themselves known to Casey of the secretariat so that we can allocate the appropriate time for them to do so.

I would now like to welcome representatives from Unions Tasmania to today's hearing. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as proceedings of the respective houses. I invite you to make an opening statement, and then we can proceed to questions.

Mr Harkins : What I propose to do if you are happy, Chair, is that, rather than provide you with a lot of written information and downloads from Google, which I am sure you have plenty of to work through now, I just want to give an overall experience of what we have in Tasmania, starting with some personal experience. I am then happy to take questions in any way through that. I will then ask Nicole to come in and provide details of one case study in particular—although there may be a number of others—that we feel pretty strongly about and want to tell you about.

I want to say at the start that we feel that the face of bullying in the workplace has changed. There used to be traditional initiation type processes that we are all aware of from media reports. I think it has all moved to a more complex state now: bullying in the workplace largely by workplace psychopaths. While companies have policies in place to combat bullying in the workplace, I think that in the main they are token attempts to do nothing or to cover what happens in the workplace.

Taking my own experience, I have had an experience where I have had an employer—or a boss, if you like—that was a workplace bully and that was a workplace psychopath. Believe it or not, that was when I was with the ETU Victorian branch for about five years. As for some of the impacts, the turnover of staff for that union would be in excess of 100 per cent and still the individual continues in that position. There have been multiple complaints of harassment. One that I am aware of has been gender based. There have been a number of employees of that organisation that have faced mental issues once they have left the organisation. Another individual was purposefully kept out of work for a period of time after the bullying happened in that workplace. There was also—and I could not say for sure that this was connected with workplace bullying because that would be a pretty out there sort of allegation—one suicide by an employee of that organisation. All these happenings were well known by the organisation at other senior levels and the Victorian WorkCover Authority. They were aware of it all. There has never been an investigation. There has never been a prosecution. In my view, that is still an outstanding matter that the Victorian WorkCover Authority should act on.

In Tasmania we do not have a Brodie's law, which has just been introduced on the back of what happened to the poor unfortunate person in Victoria that we are all aware of. Nor, as far as I could find, do we have the type of stalking laws in Tasmania that would allow us to attach a Brodie's law to them—because that is what Brodie's law was as it was an extension of the stalking law. What we use in Tasmania, when we have the ability to do so, is the adverse action section as contained in the Fair Work Act, but it is difficult, it is expensive, it is legalistic and it includes, after initial conciliation anyway, the use of lawyers and then we are off to the Federal Court, where the application fees are around $3,000. So it is an expensive process as well.

CHAIR: I will butt in momentarily. When you go to the Federal Court is that under health and safety legislation or the—

Ms Wells : It is under the Fair Work Act.

CHAIR: And through adverse action?

Mr Harkins : Yes.

Ms Wells : General protections.

CHAIR: So general protections. Thank you.

Mr Harkins : More often in Tasmania we use what I think is a very good one, the Anti-Discrimination Act 1998, which I did not bring a copy of with me because you know where it is on the computer. That contains a number of attributes that go to such things as marital status, political belief and disability—the normal sorts of things that we would accept. We use that here. It is often difficult to prove that an attribute exists—and if an attribute does not exist then you do not have a prosecutable case. The costs for a whole case, if it ends up before the commission, are around $5,000. So it is an expensive process. If you are not successful then obviously you need to cover the costs yourself. If you are successful and there is a financial outcome then obviously you lose part of that financial outcome.

Ms Wells : The total cost of that for a full arbitration would be about $5,000 if you had a community advocate doing it. If you were being represented by a lawyer it would be more in the vicinity of $30,000. The average payout from the antidiscrimination tribunal is $8,000. So it very quickly becomes not commercially viable for a victim of bullying and harassment to proceed down that track.

Mr Harkins : So that is the system that we use mostly, the Anti-Discrimination Act. To my knowledge, there is only one individual in Tasmania that is the community person that actually does that. Obviously, unions do it where they can but it is different from our normal day-to-day process so it takes a little bit of specialist knowledge to actually run that through and do it, but we are trying to develop that knowledge currently.

Workplace Standards Tasmania, who are the inspectorate authority in the state, do not have a resource or an ability to prosecute over bullying and harassment cases. They may obviously disagree with that, but in the main they do not have an ability.

CHAIR: Not under occupational health and safety laws?

Mr Harkins : Yes, possibly, but their inspectors do not have the training. As you would know, the Tasmanian budget is pretty tight at the moment. They do not have an ability to employ people specifically for that role. It is difficult to prove, time-consuming and all those sorts of things. The inspectors do not have the training they need to underpin a proper prosecution investigation in that area. To be honest, we have a poorly paid inspectorate in comparison to what you might find in other states, so attracting people that might play a good role is difficult because, basically, in my view they are not paid highly enough. For instance, it is around the $60,000 to $70,000 mark, which for some people is a good wage, but in that area and having that level of expertise it is pretty modest.

This will be of interest: the new Work Health and Safety Act—which was going to cover the whole country, but that seems to be becoming a little bit undone at the moment—will be enacted in Tasmania from 1 January. You would well know that the code of practice for bullying and harassment is going to form part of that legislation. The code of practice is only advisory. It is not mandatory, so it does not carry the force of law. All it does do is provide the inspectorate with an ability to use that document as knowledge that the employer or whoever breaches the law should have if they are going to prosecute. In our view that is not strong enough.

CHAIR: Did Tasmania have a code before this? Some jurisdictions had a code.

Mr Harkins : No.

CHAIR: So this will be the first time any such code exists for Tasmania.

Mr Harkins : Yes.

Mr RAMSEY: What date did you say that was starting?

Mr Harkins : It was going to be 1 January this year, but the upper house in Tasmania—who are predominantly Independent—put it off for 12 months, so it will be 1 January 2013.

CHAIR: That is not the code; that is when the harmonised laws come in.

Mr Harkins : The harmonised laws, yes. In our view, while the code of practice will be helpful, it is just not strong enough. It will be similar to a policy, with lip service but no real implementation in the workplace.

Ms Wells : So our position is that it should be a regulation.

Mr Harkins : It should be a regulation. Penalties under the new act will be vastly higher than they currently are in Tasmania, which is terrific, but the number of prosecutions we have in Tasmania under Workplace Standards at the moment is not many, and I am not sure that we have an ability or the resources to increase that. Perhaps others could answer that. In my view, the current written resources that are provided by our authorities are largely a waste of time, and the reason for that is that people do not read them. So it has to be a proper education process rather than just providing people with a handout. I know some union officials, including me, have used that resource when we needed guidance, but I think that is because this is what we do rather than having the general public going along and picking out a copy of the bullying and harassment handbook to have a scour through.

What I think we need to do is have strong, consistent laws that cause as little stress as possible to an employee. We need a process that is conducted quickly and with reasonable penalty outcomes to employers, whatever 'reasonable' means. We need to have in Tasmania a properly funded investigation and prosecution resource so that they are able to undertake that work properly without being dragged from one project to another. We need some professional guidance about how to move forward with this issue. Bullying and harassment, in my view, are now probably the largest issue that we have in the workplace in Australia, and I do not think anyone has their head around what we should do about it.

What we have done in Tasmania is that the WorkCover board, with the support of the state government, the minister, Workplace Standards and the union movement, has agreed that workplace bullying and harassment should be a priority for the WorkCover board moving forward. The WorkCover board is the organisation in Tasmania that runs our workers compensation system. We are currently considering what strategies we might put in place to change what currently happens. That is difficult because I think no-one really knows what to do. Once again, we need professional guidance about how best to move this whole issue forward.

Rather than each state doing its own thing, I think a national approach would be best, because we would get consistent laws across the states. Even though I know not all states are big fans of harmonisation, it would be good to have consistent laws across the states. Rather than each jurisdiction creating its own literature and everything, I think a harmonised approach to workplace bullying would be good.

What we have done from a reality point of view is that Unions Tasmania has worked with the government, WorkCover Tasmania and Workplace Standards. We had initial government funding. It was not a lot, but it was the best they could manage. Together we established an organisation called Worker Assist Tasmania. Worker Assist has three major functions. It provides free advice and support to workers who have made workers compensation claims. It also then collates information about what is actually going on in our workers compensation system. That is a good resource for everyone.

In regard to workplace health and safety education of adults, or workers, we run courses and each year in Tasmania we have WorkSafe Month. It used to be a week, but now it is a month. Unions Tasmania, with the support of those other organisations, run HSR courses—health and safety rep courses, as they will be called; they are called ESR at the moment—for two days that will focus on bullying and harassment. We have Dr John Clarke, who you may have heard of, coming to talk to those two groups, and he is also coming the day before to meet with all the unions, people from Workplace Standards and anyone else who wants to come and have a talk about the issue.

The reason you have the little USB sticks is that we have an in-school education program. It is not government mandated or anything like that; it is by invitation, or we go and seek opportunities to talk to people. We talk to students in years 9 and 10, but our preference is years 10, 11 and 12—we call years 11 and 12 college in Tasmania—and students who are undertaking training at TAFE colleges, who might be apprentices, trainees or whoever we can get to. We have about an hour of discussion with them and we provide them all with a little USB stick which contains some good stuff from Workplace Standards, some educational material from the unions and a fair bit about workplace bullying. We talk to the students for sometimes half an hour but usually an hour, depending on the allowance from the school. At least 15 to 20 minutes of that is taken up with nothing but discrimination and bullying in the workplace, because young kids are affected most, in my view, because the imbalance in the workplace is such with young people. So we do that and we provide them all with one of these USB sticks.

It is best to have a face-to-face discussion about workplace rights, occupational health and safety, bullying and harassment. My belief is that we have not done health and safety very well in the past. We have not done bullying and harassment very well in the past. We should be building it into the early education system so that we start teaching kids possibly even in primary school so that when they come out and go into the world of work they are already aware of what their rights are as far as health and safety and those sorts of things. I think that when you try to change someone's view when they are 20, 25 or 30 it is a case of old habits die hard. It is easier if we can get some generational change. The WorkCover board here has talked about actually introducing some sort of proper or structured training program even as far back as late primary school. I am finished now. Unless there are any questions, Nicole just wanted to say a couple of things.

Ms Wells : What I wanted to do today was talk to the committee about a couple of issues that we have had to deal with involving members being bullied and harassed. There are probably other union organisers here listening who have had similar experiences. We have noticed that for us it is state owned companies or government business enterprises where the majority of this occurs. I have to be careful about what I say, because there have been a couple of deeds of settlement which have occurred. They include some confidentiality provisions, so I will speak in general terms.

We had one individual, a married man with children, one of whom had autism, who made a complaint of bullying, harassment and sexual harassment against his direct manager. The company simply did not know how to deal with it, because both the complainant and the respondent were of the same gender. They took the opinion that it could not be sexual harassment simply because they were of the same gender. There were a couple of investigations. The result was they sacked the complainant, stating that he was trying to obtain a financial advantage from his employer because he had made a claim with the Anti-Discrimination Commission which sought some kind of compensation. They said that because he had had a conversation with another employee saying, 'If you are also affected by this person,' who was well known for bullying and harassment in the workplace, 'you may be able to make a claim as well.' So his job was terminated. He is now no longer working as a tradesman. He is working in security, where obviously his income is considerably less than what he was earning before. It had a drastic effect on his family.

That matter was settled recently, but the problem that I see with all of these issues is that what usually happens is that the complainant settles for some amount of money, which is hush money. It all has to be completely confidential. It is all covered up. The matters become quite expensive for the complainant to make their way through. It could be $30,000 if they have a lawyer. So what ends up happening is people are pushed to a point where they need to conciliate and they need to accept whatever is on offer because they cannot take the stress and they cannot take the expense. Then they usually end up getting considerably more than what the average payout under the tribunal would be of $8,000. But because these matters never make their way to wilful arbitration or a full hearing the average payments never get any bigger.

So we have a system which encourages secrecy and encourages people to make confidential settlements, and usually those confidential settlements involve that person never returning to the workplace. We have a system where it is in the employer's interest to pay out money and not have the problem back in the workplace. The managers who created the problem usually remain within the organisation, often not having training. So the system is completely broken.

That is why our position is that it needs to be harmonised and it needs to be national. There needs to be a very smooth process to allow people to have their matters heard quickly. The ADC here is drastically under-resourced, so it usually takes up to two years for a matter to go through to a full hearing, if you get to that stage. By that time, the person has not been able to move on from the bullying, harassment and victimisation that occurs. So we need a common approach to it, and that common approach needs to make it as simple and as cost effective as possible for the victim so they can get some kind of justice. The fact is we are never going to stop this behaviour from happening. We can have education and we can try to minimise it, but anything we put in place to allow somebody to get restitution has to be much better than what we have now, because it just does not work. I can go on with other examples but I am not going to because they are all very similar.

CHAIR: We have got a limited time, so I will start questions and then hand over to my colleagues. You are talking about the process and we have certainly heard the importance of early intervention. But I guess from a lot of the victims they do not even want to get it to a stage where they are trying to get compensation or anything like that; they just want it addressed in the workplace so that they can keep on working. They do not mind conciliation and it is not about money, it is about sitting everyone around the table sorting it out, feeling like the behaviour has changed of the person who is bullying and that the correct management structures are in place. A lot of people wish that when they made the complaint internally it was validated and it was dealt with and that they could just get on with work. Indeed, for a lot of people that was one of the big harming things in the whole situation, where nothing changed and no-one changed their behaviour. They felt like they became the problem. I take your points about a later stage and making the process easier. Do you see thing that can happen earlier on so that it does not get to where money is even involved? How do you intervene early enough so that it does not even get to an adversarial process but it can be preventive or early intervention so that the person can continue to work in the workplace without feeling like they are entering into an adversarial process?

Ms Wells : The problem I foresee with that is that most of the time when you make a complaint automatically the employer wants to reject it because to admit it means that they have to fix a problem that they do not want to admit they have got. So I suppose we need some kind of body which has authority to be able to come in that is independent and be able to say to both of the parties, 'This is real,' because a person's perception under most discrimination law says the way somebody perceives something is their reality. There needs to be some kind of independent authority which has the ability to make an employer deal with the matter rather than just saying, 'I'm refusing to move you, I'm refusing to accept that there is a problem, it is all you, your performance is no good,' whatever it might be, and then that person is left in this no man's land essentially of where do I go now. Policies within companies mean nothing and most of the time companies do not follow their own policies, is our experience. So the only way I would see that happening is an independent authority having the authority to intervene on the matter and there being a big stick if an employer or an employee that is accused refuses to participate in what they think might be going on.

Mr Harkins : Nicole's first point is absolutely correct. My experience here in Tasmania is that as soon as you put a complaint in the barrier goes up. Most employers do not know what to do about it because they do not know how to handle it because it is a newish, sort of.

Ms Wells : Or they are the one you are complaining about.

Mr Harkins : Yes. In one instance in Tasmania multiple complaints were against the manager, people and culture and a number of those staff left that employer but that manager is still there today. It is the same in my own experience. We have had 100 per cent turnover from that organisation that I was at but that guy is still there. So there is this protection mechanism as well, I think. They can give you hush money, whatever the amount might be, and it is usually modest, to go away so that they do not have any other problems, but then you have lost your employment, so you have lost that stability. In Tassie it is hugely difficult at the moment to find another job somewhere else. Because it is a small place, people ask you, 'Why did you leave where you left?' What are you going to say?

Ms Wells : But the issue really is what you do if somebody does not accept that there is a very real complaint. It would be interesting to see what other people with their impact statements have to say about that. Most of them probably say, when they put a complaint in, that it was not accepted or they then became even more of a target. So there needs to be an opportunity for us to get a quick resolution from another body that has the authority to act where it needs to.

Mr RAMSEY: Thank you both for being here. Some of the employers have raised with us the issue which I think one of them described as double jeopardy where they have a complaint within the workplace and they try a conference with the people concerned and then in the end they make a decision that someone has to go—and, as you say, often it is the employee. In fact, they raised with us a number of occasions when it was the accused, if you like—the bully—who then immediately turned around and slapped an unfair dismissal claim against them. So then we have another arm of Fair Work actually reaching across and making another assessment of whether or not this person was a bully in the first place. So they feel pretty threatened by that. They cannot win no matter what they do, so they were asking for some adjustments to the unfair dismissal laws. It is probably not that easy to do that, even though it was suggested that the code of conduct that I think applies to the smaller employers should be used right through the rest of the unfair dismissal laws. I am placing that on the record so you can understand the predicament that they are in and tell us whether you have any ways by which they might be able to deal with that. In some cases there are some people whom you do need to get rid of out of your workforce.

Mr Harkins : Absolutely. Why people have a hang-up about unfair dismissal laws is beyond me, to be honest—and obviously for political reasons some people use it as a scare tactic. If an employer uses proper process all the way through and terminates an employee—so if they have a proper reason and a proper process and everything else—then the chance of anyone winning an unfair dismissal claim is nil.

Mr RAMSEY: But what they say is that in the end they have got to go through the court process and in the end they pay the money and get people to leave.

Mr Harkins : Well, you do not have to do that. You do not have to go through a court process. Normally if you go to a commissioner and the case is properly laid out —

Mr RAMSEY: You have got to make sure you get the right party then, don't you? And someone has to back one or the other.

Mr Harkins : Industrial relations, in my opinion after 30 years of experience, is not rocket science if you do the right thing and follow the process and follow the law. I have been doing this for 30 years and I have done about three unfair dismissals I have won and re-employment has been zero. So, as long as the process is conducted properly by an employer they have nothing to worry about.

Ms Wells : I will supplement that. In the real world I understand that is probably a concern to them, being the additional expense that they would have to go to to defend an unfair dismissal in those circumstances. There needs to be a conciliation process in relation to Fair Work and I would make the point that it would be gross misconduct if you got to the stage where this person needed to be terminated because of the conduct that had occurred, and then they have that automatic defence under unfair dismissal and I think that would come out in the conference part leading up to the unfair dismissal, because there is a whole process you need to go through before any kind of hearing. But I come back to this: if you have an independent body that has the authority to come in and actually deal with these matters maybe they would feel—although I do not know—more comfortable about the fact of having an independent authority that can assist in making these decisions and that can also then assist in providing evidence in any of these matters which these people may then attempt to take to Fair Work.

Mr RAMSEY: When you say 'an independent body' do you mean an arm of Work Safe Australia or an arm of Fair Work? What do you mean?

Ms Wells : I would probably not make it an arm of Fair Work. That would really be a decision I suppose for you people. I have not given it a lot of thought. But probably it would make sense to have it with Work Safe or workplace standards or whatever it would be in each of the jurisdictions, because it is about providing a safe workplace. If you are experiencing bullying and harassment it is not a safe workplace. Yes—I think it would probably sit there, intelligently.

Mr Harkins : Can I comment? Under our Anti-Discrimination Act, which is where we handle our bullying and harassment, a single activity or a one-off of a person doing something is not bullying or harassment. It has terminology. Do not ask me what—

Ms Wells : Systemic.

Mr RAMSEY: That seems to be the case across all the jurisdictions. It is common.

Mr Harkins : Systemic, continuous—that is right. Let us pretend for second that it is a boss—because it normally is, or someone in a position of power. It will not be a once off. There will be half a dozen times and usually be more than one individual. So, when you get to your unfair dismissal, if the employer cannot wrap that one up then he should find himself another job, really.

CHAIR: Can I ask a quick question about that? One of the issues has been that if you have one of the attributes—you are being harassed because of sex, race, et cetera—then in a lot of jurisdictions you cannot pursue bullying unless it is associated with one of those attributes. Does it have to be associated with one of those attributes here in Tasmania or is there a general provision under the Anti-Discrimination Act for bullying?

Ms Wells : No, there is not. It needs to be attached to one of the sixteen attributes. However, if it is physical in nature—a physical assault or sexual harassment—it does not need to be attached to an attribute. So yes, that is slightly different. A lot of employers and a lot of lawyers do not understand that. I think we have the widest list of attributes of any state in Australia. I would argue we probably have the best discrimination legislation in the world.

CHAIR: But if it is not physical and you do not have an attribute and you have been persistently pursued, psychologically, by someone in the workplace then you cannot use that legislation. You would go for the adverse—

Ms Wells : Yes. It is not covered by that.

Mr Harkins : That is right.

Ms Wells : Yes, through adverse action perhaps.

Mr RAMSEY: That is the same, though.

CHAIR: Adverse action still has the attributes.

Ms Wells : That is right—adverse action still has the attributes. It has to be because you have been seeking an entitlement that you know you are entitled to. They are discriminating against you because you exercised a workplace right.

CHAIR: Not just because that person decided to pick on you.

Ms Wells : Because you were you.

CHAIR: As we have heard from a lot of impact statements, people believed that they were very successful and perhaps another employee did not like them doing the extra work and a whole range of things. If it is just for that reason, there is nothing for them to pursue.

Ms Wells : The only thing you could then argue would be around the employer providing a safe workplace for you under the Work Health and Safety Act—

CHAIR: And rely on Workplace Standards to make a prosecution.

Ms Wells : That is right, and they do not have the resources or the expertise, under this, to be able to take it up.

CHAIR: Do you have a list of the attributes? That would be great. Thank you. I will just move to Mike.

Mr Harkins : That is why workplace psychopaths are so successful—because, generally speaking, it is not physical, it is mental. They get others in the workplace to do their work for them, as I am sure Mike has experienced himself in a past life, and that is why they get away with it.

Mr SYMON: I will speak for myself on my past life rather than have others do that! You spoke about the prevalence of bullying in Tasmanian workplaces but especially in government business enterprises and state owned businesses. This is more to Nicole. I asked similar questions yesterday in Melbourne as to why it is particular types of employment that seem to show up more often in the submissions we have seen so far. Is there a particular reason why someone who goes to work for that type of business is more likely to end up suffering from bullying and harassment than, in this case, in a privately owned business of a similar size? Are there any reasons that you are aware of?

Ms Wells : I can only speak from my belief regarding what I think happens there but this is what I think. If you are in business for yourself, or you are out there doing it in the private sector, then every time you have to make some kind of a payment or there is some expense then that hits your bottom line.

In the public service—because a lot of it happens in the public service, and in state owned companies and government business enterprises—in the end they do not really have to answer to anybody when they pay out $250,000 in legal fees and the same amount in hush money. That is all taxpayer funds. Every Tasmanian is contributing to the hush money being paid and to the conciliations that are occurring here. And there is lost productivity. Let us face it: that is what happens in every workplace where there is bullying and harassment. This is not a pitch to privatise state owned companies by any stretch of the imagination, because I do not believe in that, either. But there is no accountability; none.

Mr SYMON: Aren't the figures of payouts ever published in accounts at the end of the year?

Ms Wells : You try and find them in the annual reports.

Mr SYMON: Are there questions asked in parliament about that?

Ms Wells : You cannot even work out what they are paid. We attempt to have questions asked at estimates. Most of the time the responses that you get back from that process are glib. A lot of the time, the people who you want to ask the questions and push it further may also have other things on their agenda and may not necessarily want to be seen to be taking on a state owned company when their side of the chamber may be in government. That is not really the answer, either. You asked me a question about why I think that it is more prevalent. Why it is more prevalent is because they are simply not accountable.

Mr SYMON: It is somewhere to hide.

Ms Wells : Absolutely.

Mr Harkins : It also goes to the size of the companies. In Tassie, the largest organisations are often either the public sector or state owned government organisations like the power industry, which is still government owned. They are the big employers and that is where you hear about it happening more. But it is not exclusively happening there. We had one the other day that involved an apprentice in a small workplace. We got the local training authority to go and talk to the employer and sorted it out. In smaller companies, such as a two or three person enterprise, it would be handled in a different way. They would say, 'I've got an issue here, so you're gone.' You do not hear about that; it does not get reported.

Mr SYMON: That is part of it. That is part of my next question. Prevalence maybe comes with greater avenues for redress, greater education levels—

Ms Wells : Greater teeth; a greater stick.

Mr SYMON: Yes. That then leads back into the culture of the workplaces and how bullying can continue in a workplace over a number of years. Has it always been this way?

Ms Wells : There have always been forms of bullying and harassment in workplaces. Do I think that it has gotten worse? Yes, I do. There is more pressure on organisations than ever before to try and be cost effective. We are certainly seeing that in the power industry all around the country, where there is pressure to try and lower the increases to customers. That puts pressure on managers, who then put pressure further down the line. Often that takes the form of bullying and harassment. That can often happen without the managers even knowing that that is what they are doing.

Mr SYMON: Kevin opened with the fact that bullying in his eyes and in the eyes of many has moved from the overt to the covert.

Ms Wells : Yes.

Mr SYMON: Is that what you were talking about in that response? It is going down the line. It may not be seen by many people along the line, except the victim at the end of it.

Ms Wells : What I think happens is that often managers up the line will turn a blind eye to it because they see it as a way of reducing cost. 'If I can get this person to do these things unsafely or get them to work unpaid hours through intimidation or whatever then that is a cost benefit for me.' I am not saying that that is always what happens, but many team leaders, managers and supervisors across all industries think that if their employees are scared of them they will get greater productivity. In actual fact, it is the exact reverse of that. If your employees are scared of and intimidated by you, their productivity will go through the floor. It is systemic. There are managers within organisations who think that it is good to have a workforce that is intimidated and frightened. That goes back to the cultural stuff that you were talking about. Until we get organisations to understand that an engaged workforce is going to be far more productive and that beating them over the head is not going to deliver what you need then we are going to continue to see bullying grow within workplaces.

Mr SYMON: I have one last question. Yesterday we spoke to Moira Rayner in Melbourne. She talked about the work that she had done in the Victorian Equal Opportunity Commission over the years and the model that was used quite successfully there at the time of conciliation between parties through an external person—she was the external person. As I understood what she said to us yesterday, the best thing about that model was speed. If someone had a problem and needed someone to listen to them talk about it they could go there and have it listened to. They may not get the result that they were after, but someone has heard the problem and the other side has been brought in. Do you see a place for that in Tasmanian workplaces?

Ms Wells : Yes.

Mr Harkins : I would think so. Once again, it is a resource issue for us. I agree. If you have a bullying situation, if there is direct and quick intervention, a lot of the time the bully is found out and will stop. The science proves that.

Ms Wells : There has to be the will to do that.

Mr Harkins : The employer has to accept that there is an issue and stop it. If we had an independent body—a workplace standards body or the Tasmanian Industrial Commission or something like that—that was able to intervene then we would get these things handled a lot faster. If it continued on after that, then at least the employer would be aware of it.

CHAIR: We have run out of time. Thank you very much for providing evidence here today. If there is anything else that you would like to provide, please do not hesitate to pass it on to the committee through the secretariat. You will also be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence and you can make grammatical or factual corrections to it. Thank you very much.