Bullying at work a rising problem
Workplace bullying and harassment cost the public sector $2.6 million last year after more than 100 public servants lodged workers compensation claims over repeated assaults, threats, verbal abuse or harassment from co-workers.
Figures obtained by The West Australian from WorkCover WA, the state agency responsible for insurance of workplace accidents and death, revealed workplace bullying is on the rise, with 102 claims for harassment and workplace bullying lodged in 2010-11, up from 83 the year before.
Claims for time off relating to bullying and harassment in the workplace more than doubled in the past year, increasing from 38 in 2009-10 to 80 in 2010-11.
Of those, 49 claims were accepted at an estimated cost of $2.67 million, up from $2.3 million the year before when 32 claims were accepted.
Equal Opportunity Commissioner Yvonne Henderson feared incidences of workplace bullying were worse than the figures depicted, describing them as “just the tip of the iceberg”.
“These are only the people who have actually end up pursuing a workers’ compensation claim and normally that would require them to have some form of psychiatric treatment, so the bullying has created such an adverse affect on their health, they develop either a major psychological or psychiatric condition and the test for workers compensation is reasonably high and I think the actual incidence of bullying is much greater than that,” she said.
Ms Henderson said the EOC had witnessed a steady increase in the number of inquiries about bullying since it began keeping statistics in 2007.
The Public Sector Commission said allegations of workplace bullying were treated seriously and the claims represented less than four in every 1000 employees.
“Of the number of claims lodged, far fewer are accepted as genuine claims. It is likely that some claims of bullying reflect the fact that workplace bullying is poorly defined and poor understood,” according to a PSC statement.
The figures come as a report from the Public Sector Commission revealed a spike in the number of men claiming to have been bullied or harassed in the workplace.
The report, tabled in State Parliament, said a survey of 5022 employees, found 931 – or 18.5 per cent – claimed to have been subjected to bullying or harassment in the workplace, compared with 17.5 per cent last year.
The number of men who said they had been bullied or harassed increased from 14.5 per cent last year to 19.8 per cent this year, compared with 20.7 per cent of women.
In its report, the Public Sector Commission revealed 98 per cent of the 123 public sector agencies surveyed had strategies or initiatives in place to minimise workplace bullying and harassment, with 20,495 employees receiving training in 2010-11.
“This represents the second largest volume of training participants compared to all other training activities reported on for the year,” the Commission said.
It said agencies had access to training programs and a range of resources through WorkSafe and the Commissioner believed issues such as workplace bullying needed to be managed at the lowest appropriate level.
“Encouraging employees to use formal complaints processes can be counterproductive. Early informal intervention can be much more effective in re-establishing productive and harmonious working relations,” the PSC said in a statement.
“Nonetheless, behaviour that breaches the Code of Ethics should not be dismissed or downplayed and the Commission will continue to work with agencies where matters arise.”
Ms Henderson said there a need for the Equal Opportunity Act to be amended to include bullying.
“The kinds of things we do under our Act, bringing all parties together to sit around a table and talk about what the issue is all about and try find a resolution, that in our view is a more effective remedy for bullying because quite a lot of those agreement that we reach in relation to other matters involve training for staff and sometimes specific training for the perpetrator,” Ms Henderson said.
Attorney General Christian Porter said while it was acknowledged there may be a case to be made for reform, the Government would await the examination of Victorian anti-workplace bullyi ng laws by the Standing Committee of Attorney Generals before deciding whether legislative change was needed in WA.
Victoria introduced laws earlier this year after a 19-year-old woman committed suicide after being bullied by her workmates.