The peak employer advocacy group has rejected calls to the federal bullying inquiry by Unions NSW regarding the definition of workplace bullying to be expanded to include psychological and mental health damage.
In response to the radical submission from the peak trade union body, the Australian Industry Group (AiGroup) said it disagrees with the notion that workplace bullying should be dealt with through an expansion of anti-discrimination law, which is more adversarial than work health and safety law.
When the federal government announced the parliamentary inquiry in May this year, Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten said the inquiry would focus on creating a national law and will also develop a code of conduct for the workplace. Gillard said more needed to be done to stop the “silent epidemic” of bullying in the workplace. Minister Shorten cited statistics from the Productivity Commission which estimated workplace bullying is costing Australian businesses between $6bn and $36bn annually.
According to Stephen Smith of Ai Group, there is a lot of misunderstanding of what workplace bullying actually is. "For example, it is not widely understood that workplace bullying is a problem that primarily falls within the jurisdiction of work health and safety regulation, which has a strongly preventative focus, and not anti-discrimination or industrial law, which deals with discriminatory or harassing behaviour in respect of a specific protected attribute,” Smith commented.
He added that the statistics show that many complaints about workplace bullying turn out to not be valid -- for example, if an employer disciplines a poor performing employee in a reasonable way that is not bullying even though the employee may think that it is.
It is the view of AiGroup that bullying complaints remain a serious issue but the high community cost of bullying can best be addressed by a renewed emphasis on prevention. In his statement response, Smith also called on the governments to devote more resources to educate employers, employees and the community on what workplace bullying is and how it should be prevented and dealt with.
Proposals to prevent negative workplace cultures from developing and to help bullying victims return to work will also be considered during the inquiry, which will be undertaken by the House Standing Committee on Education and Employment.
The committee, comprising members from both major parties, will consult extensively with the community and will report back to government by 30 November 2012.