Workplace Bullying And Harassment In The Public SectorWorkplace Bullying And Harassment In The Public Sector

Workplace bullying and harassment - especially in the public sector - is rampant. Although legislation and whistleblower protective mechanisms exist - most staff members subject to bullying or harassment never make formal complaints or take action to stop the perpetrators in their tracks. Many instances are really disturbing with people generally being too scared to identify themselves for fear of retribution. A lot of people with complaints in this area also claim that it is in fact their supervisor who is the perpetrator of the bullying or harassment and that the Department/Council does little to investigate allegations of bullying or harassment and even if they do investigate, there is a suggestion that the organisation is intent on supporting the supervisor and not undertaking a thorough independent investigation. Certainly in the public sector, those being bullied believe the process is so flawed that it is a waste of time to complain and so reluctantly decide to continue putting up with the harassment until they can find a new job. This is certainly an extremely sad situation.

If this trend and these concerns are reflective of the actualities in the public service then Premiers, Ministers, Mayors and Heads of Departments need to look closely at the matter as one of great urgency. It is clear that many people in this situation do not have confidence in the current systems and specifically do not trust the Department/Council's ability to investigate the complaints independently, impartially and thoroughly and to make recommendations based on the findings of such investigations and to implement effective solutions.

If public servants do not have confidence in the present systems then action is needed to assess the issue and develop a solution which protects the rights of all and gives people confidence in the system. The current processes simply aren't working. One possible solution is to implement a fully transparent and independent body (based in each state) removed from the umbrella of individual Departments (state or federal) and local Councils and which reports directly to the Premiers Office in each state. This body would be tasked with investigating all formal allegations of workplace bullying or harassment in a completely fair and impartial way with no interference from Government agencies. The independent body would then develop recommendations, which must be implemented by the relevant agency.

Such an independent and autonomous body, which reported directly to the Premier would remove any suggestion of Departmental/Council interference in the process. In a utopian society this idea would seem to have merit. However Government entities at all levels are reluctant to facilitate any process that suggests transparency of decisions and operations and certainly fear any mechanisms that relinquishes their ability to control issues within their sphere of influence. In most states - FOI laws which were supposed to ensure the transparency of Government have been watered down and any complaints made by people to the various official misconduct/corruption agencies usually are actually referred back to the Department about whom the complaint was made for them to investigate themselves. As such it would seem unlikely that Government agencies would support the implementation of a fully transparent and accountable body tasked with ensuring fairness and equity in cases of bullying and harassment.

In the meantime, staff faced with instances of bullying need to be vocal and must ensure that correspondence outlining their complaints are forwarded to the Director General of the Department, Minister of the relevant Department, Premier, Mayor, Council CEO or the Prime Minister obviously depending on the agency involved. People facing these unsettling situations must demand action but at the same time request confidentiality of their complaint so as to ensure that the prospects of retribution in the workplace are removed. Taking the step of including the most senior decision maker in the correspondence loop will hopefully ensure the matter cannot be swept under the carpet by bureaucrats. It is important in these situations that every effort is made to lobby key decision makers and keep them informed of any progress or more importantly lack thereof.

I am sure that many will disagree with the suggestion of setting up an independent body to investigate issues of bullying and harassment, but the fact remains that something has to be done to restore the confidence of public servants that a fair, equitable and impartial system is in place to protect the interests of all. Unfortunately the public sector at all levels of Government simply is either unable or unwilling to effectively protect their workers.
by Nick Ideabank
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Red Tape Busters is based in Queensland Australia and provides services in: Government and Private Sector Lobbying; Government Funding & Grant Writing Service; Job Application Writing Service; Business and Strategic Planning; Tender Writing Service and Business Support Services.
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