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04 December 2011

Bullying widespread in Australian media, services and security industry, by Greg Tingle - 4th December 2011

Bullying by people in positions of authority, trust and co-workers in the Australian media, services and security industry is much higher that most people would imagine.

Often the bullying is part of a bigger picture, sometimes involving professional jealousy, career and business sabotage, sexism and a range of other nasties.

How do I know?. My close friend, a media worker, has been a victim of this for almost two years, and this terrible crime is not uncommon at all in the media, services and security industry. The "bastardisation" you hear about in the Australian Defence Force only gives the public a small inkling of what happens all too much in the Australian workplace.

In this instance, workplace and civil laws have been broken by a so called public relations company and a very small group of photographers (who have also bullied and conspired against a media worker).

Some workers have even committed suicide, such as the case with waitress Brodie Panlock, who took her own life in 2006 after being continually bullied at work.

The bullying can also take its toll on the families and friends of those who are victim, with those who are close to the victim also feeling like the attack is also directed at them.

Sometimes bullying (including career and business sabotage and discrimination) can be difficult to detect or prove. Fortunately in the case I know about, "Ava Devine" (not her real name) has been building up evidence of the bullying, harassment, racism, sexism and business sabotage for many months, and now has enough evidence that will take the perpetrator to the cleaners via the Australian legal system. She also has a complaint lodged with the Australian Human Rights Commission, along with a number of witnesses, myself just being one of them.

Sometimes bullying occurs between individuals or groups of workers out of sight of a manager, even outside of work hours. Morale and income / productivity is effected. Sometimes there can even be confusion about the correct action witnesses to co-worker bullying should take.

Spot The Workplace Bully...

Workplace bullying is loosely de­fined as the tendency of individuals or groups to use persistent, unrea­sonable, threatening, humiliating or aggressive behaviour against a co-worker, either directly or indirectly. Some identified examples include verbal abuse and or name calling, spreading of rumours or innuendo, interference with property or equip­ment, excessive or unjustified criti­cism or scrutiny, deliberate exclusion or denials, and sabotaging work
performance. All of these things, and more undesirable workplace actions have happened to "Ava".

These examples are to be differentiated from mere uncomfort­able experiences arising in a work­place. Personality clashes, differences of opinion or task related conflicts will generally not amount to bully­ing, nor will a single incident of un­reasonable behaviour between em­ployees (though it is recommended appropriate action be taken to ad­dress the behaviour). In the instance I am close to, about half a dozen different incidences have occurred, and there are consistencies in the bullying, as well as now strong evidence of it, plus witnesses at the ready.

Fair and reasonable management action or direction will generally not be considered bullying. This includes direction of work, monitor­ing of employee performance and setting performance standards and review, which may include negative feedback, indications of unsatisfac­tory work or the instigation of a per­formance management process.

The Business And Human Costs...

Workplace bullying can be a toxic cancer to a business causing high staff turnover, absenteeism, low morale and re­duced productivity. It can also expose an employer to bigger financial risks including the possibili­ty of workers’ compensation claims, legal action or substantial fines for breaches of workplace health and safety legislative obligations.

Each state based occupational health and safety legislation identifies an employer’s duty to provide a work environment that is safe, and free from risks to the health and wellbeing of employees. Workplace bullying has the potential to risk employee well be­ing stemming from feelings of humil­iation, stress, anxiety and their asso­ciated physical symptoms. Where practicable, em­ployers should seek to implement measures which reduce or eliminate the possibility of workplace bullying and associated harm, taking proac­tive approaches to reduce the risk of bullying. Possible action includes preemptive assessments of possible bullying risk factors in the work­place, development of a formal workplace bullying policy and for­mal procedures to address a work­place bullying complaint.

Respond To The Bully!...

In the event of a claim of bullying by a co-worker, an employer should in the first instance seek to act accord­ing to an established company bully­ing or occupational health and safe­ty procedure. If no formal procedure is developed, state legislation may re­quire the employer follow a default procedure as identified in state occupational health and safety legisla­tion.

If there's a complaint there are principles to follow. Firstly each complaint should be taken seriously and action should be prompt. Sec­ondly the employer should approach the situation with neutrality, provide support and ensure fairness of process for all parties involved. Doc­umentation and communication with parties is also essential, howev­er an employer should ensure confi­dentiality, especially where request­ed by the accuser.

Co-worker bullying, though be­tween employees as individuals, is an issue that holds great employer re­sponsibility. Due to the scope of an employer’s duty to ensure a work­place free from harm, an employer will need to ensure suitable pre-emp­tive action to reduce possible risks of bullying, and in the case of a claim of co-worker bullying ensure appro­priate process in order to avoid ex­posure to breach of occupational health and safety obligations. In some cases its best that one of the parties leave the workplace or industry, either by their own will, or if need be - an enforceable legal action type scenario.

Some Bullying Is Workplace Is Ignored - Until It's Too Late; Bullies May Get Dose Of Own Medicine In Revenge Actions From Family And Friends...

Some friends and families of those who got bullied at work are sometimes becoming so frustrated with lack or real action that they are taking action into the own hands. In layman's terms, this can mean that the bully gets out-bullied - beaten convincingly at his or her own game. This has happened to at least one Sydney based media worker in the past couple of months. The bully is seldom seen at work anymore, having got a solid taste of his own medicine. Some smart co-workers of the media bully realised the bully was beaten at their own game, and stopped their own bullying actions against the initial victim of the workplace bullying.

Crying "workplace bully" has become almost so popular now that not all reports are taken as seriously as they should be. Some misguided workplace-bullying complaints are increasing so dramatically that workplace regulators are concerned genuine victims are being overlooked.

Unions, regulators and complaints tribunals report that workplace bullying complaints have tripled or even quadrupled in recent years. Most reported incidents turn out to be minor personality clashes or disputes over other issues.

We obtained some data that shows more than 60% of the 2080 complaints lodged with WorkCover, the NSW government's workplace inspector, in 2010-11 were rejected or withdrawn, and only a handful were deemed serious enough to warrant possible prosecution. Little wonder some families and friends of those being bullied are known to take action into their own hands.

WorkCover reports that bullying complaints have more than quadrupled in three years.

Workcover NSW receives an average of 360 bullying calls a month, nearly 50% above the rate of 4 years back, and calls to the Australian Human Rights Commission have nearly tripled since 2005.

The alarming rise in bullying claims reported by WorkCover and other organisations appears to contradict the Productivity Commission, which last year reported "significant declines" in such claims.

But the commission's data measured successful compensation claims, whereas most complaints flooding into WorkCover and other organisations never progress to compensation. The case this writer is close to appears destined for the courts and the victim has strong evidence to back up the claim.

What May Be The Solution To Workplace Bullying?...

A number of things - tougher laws, stronger workplace measures, and severe financial penalties to bullies and those who protect them. Then of course some say that the only language that a bully understands is to have bullying occur to them. Not to condone it, but here's an interesting analogy - in some parts of the U.S criminals that have killed are executed by electric chair, as to ensure they don't do it again. Some of course go to jail, where beatings and harassment are just par for the course, so they usually get a taste of their own medicine sooner or later. Often correctional centres do not in fact cure the criminal, they rather act as a training ground to become a better criminal.

Can You Reform A Bully Or Serial Harasser?

No names, but it's well known that in Sydney a a serial bully who was a part time media worker, was consistently harassing another media worker, and getting away with it (for a while), until the bully met his match. A bigger, tougher fellow, who didn't like what was happening to the media worker how was being bullied. The bully got a taste of his own medicine, and surprise not - the bullying from that individual ceased. Sadly, those in the know generally think that a current case of workplace bulling in the Australian media industry is not going to stop until the perpetrator cops a massive legal suit that includes harassment, assault and business sabotage, along with a healthy dose of copping a taste of their own medicine. Just like some sexual abusers of children, the only sort of cure that is guaranteed to work will be a chemical castration or electric chair type scenario. Insiders in the Australian media bullying situation have whispers going around that the media bully needs to be sent out of business, blackballed, and then be in line for some street justice, to help ensure they don't further re-offend, Only a total solution can ensure that the workplace remain a enjoyable and safe place for the rest of us.

Here's to ridding the Australian workplace of bullies - both by the book using our legal system, and many surveyed would also suggest with a touch of street justice on the side. I sure wouldn't want to be a particular Sydney based media and publicity events worker at the moment. Their days appeared numbered, and we hear that hundreds of other Australian media workers can't wait for them to be sent bankrupt, publicly named and shamed, and kicked to the curb of the media industry, of which they are one of the most despised media workers in the history of the Australian media industry. The Department of Human Rights and high level legal eagles know about your actions, as do a few good and pissed of media folks in Sydney, who have a few ideas of their own as to what to do to the bully to ensure 100% that they will never re-offend again.

Sydney media bully - I wouldn't want to be in your position at the moment. Your days in the Australian media business are numbered, and I am delighted that I am just one of multitudes of people that will be pleased to see you and your company removed from an otherwise pretty good Aussie news media industry.

*The writer is a media consultant and publisher, and the director of Media Man News.

Websites

Australian Human Rights Commission

Workcover NSW

Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance

Media Man News