Swifter action needed on workplace bullying

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Currently, remedies to prevent bullying take a “terribly long time”, according to Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten. The Government has proposed amendments to the Fair Work Act in response to a parliamentary inquiry, which will make it easier for organisations to define, and deal with bullying, more effectively.

Traditionally, bullying has been dealt with via state health and safety regulators; so every state could have a different response. The government plans to adopt a national solution by allowing people to seek the assistance of the Fair Work Commission – an independent umpire – to deal with bullying complaints, working with state regulators if the issues are very serious.

The House of Representatives committee recommended the definition of bullying, harassment or victimisation to be “repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety”.

Shorten addressed the serious risks of bullying through a sobering account: “I’ve seen first-hand the consequences of a family of someone who, in the end, felt so unable to deal with the bullying – which was real and malicious and terrible – they took their own life…This is a real issue.”

He said the proposed changes would allow complainants to have a hearing within 14 days. To avoid “vexatious” claims, government will be adopting the principal that “reasonable management practice requiring reasonable performance at work, is not bullying”.

Shorten plans to make sure everyone has the capacity to do their job, ensuring funding for the Ombudsman and access to training and skills for health and safety inspectors, so they can respond at the highest level when dealing with workplace bullying.

If the amendments get through Parliament they will be presented in March and Shorten wants them dealt with by the time of the budget and the winter sittings.

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