Apr 18

Cost burden for poor injury management ends up being paid for by injured workers and taxpayers

System failureWhat is outrageous about the O’Farrell Government’s attack on injured workers entitlements is that they’ve failed to look at the facts. It is injured workers and the community who already bear an overwhelming majority of the costs associated with their injuries or illnesses. Injured workers much more so. Employers (and no doubt insurers), on the other hand continue to get an increasingly free-ride.

Poor injury management ends up being paid for by taxpayers as more and more injured workers fail to make successful transitions back into the workforce. Employers routinely view many people who have been unfortunate enough to be on workers compensation as liabilities best avoided, which limits the potential injured workers (especially with long term injuries and psychological injuries) from ever returning to pre-injury employment status and earning capacity. Many long-term injured workers end up being forced onto unemployment benefits and disability pensions at taxpayer’s expense. Employers have limited liability and therefore little incentive to take the health, safety and wellbeing on injured workers seriously.

According to the 2012 Safe Work Australia report the estimated distributed costs of workplace related injury and illness in Australia are:

 employers bear 5 per cent of the total cost – this includes loss of productivity from absent workers, recruitment and retraining costs and fines and penalties from breaches of work health and safety regulations,
 injured workers bear 74 per cent of the costs – costs include loss of current and future income and non-compensated medical expenses, and
 the community bears 21 per cent of the total cost – this includes social welfare payments, medical and health scheme costs and loss of potential output and
revenue.

An extensive survey carried out before the recent changes to WorkCover in NSW highlighted the following:

• For people on workers’ compensation, coping with injury or illness is often the least of their worries. Dealing with uncaring and hostile employers and/or insurers is a far greater cause of stress to people on workers’ compensation than their injuries and/or illnesses.
•Of those surveyed, 42% nominated dealing with their employer/insurer as the biggest cause of stress. A further 20% said dealing with the workers’ compensation system was the major stress factor. Only 16% named their injury or illness as the most stressful factor.
•An alarming 59% of survey respondents reported having contemplated suicide following their injury.

The system has now become even more hostile toward injured workers. Ideally the O’Farrell Government are hoping that these new laws will be very effective in coercing anyone with an injury onto disability support or unemployment benefits and public health whilst employers will enjoy contained premiums, insurers will experience greater profits and the state government will be overseeing a system that no longer concerns itself with workplace related injuries.

Apr 18

Labor won’t be bullied on IR issues

Julia Gillard

Julia Gillard says that on workplace relations ‘we are balancing the interests of business and of employees’.

Labor vows to stare down IR opponents – Financial Review

Labor will ignore business concerns about industrial relations laws and push ahead with changes that boost workers’ and unions’ rights to request flexible hours, consult over every roster change, refer claims of bullying to the industrial umpire and strengthen right-of-entry provisions.

In a rebuke to business, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said on Wednesday there were “inevitably” different views over workplace laws but Labor had shifted the industrial relations pendulum back to the centre by abolishing Work Choices and would keep it there.

“What we’ve always done in workplace relations and what we’ll continue to do is make sure the pendulum in industrial relations is right in the middle,” Ms Gillard said.

“We are balancing the interests of business and of employees.”

On Tuesday, mining giant BHP Billiton led business criticism of Labor’s second stage of industrial relations changes, which will introduce a range of “family friendly” measures such as changes to parental leave, protections for pregnant workers and increased unpaid leave entitlements, as well as a stronger right of entry for unions.

Penalty rates would be enshrined in law, employers would have to consult employees before roster changes and workplace bullying complaints could be handled by the Fair Work Commission.

BHP issued a stinging critique of Labor’s changes to a Senate committee examining the legislation, which were introduced to Parliament by Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten.

Business Council of Australia chief Tony Shepherd weighed into the debate on Wednesday, accusing unions of taking right of entry provisions in the current Act “to ridiculous extremes”.

Mr Shepherd told the National Press Club that some BCA members had had up to 700 entries by unions in the past 12 months.

“That is a form of industrial harassment. I would almost call it bullying, but I wouldn’t say that. So these are the things we believe in the Fair Work Act that should be fixed immediately,’’ he said.

Mr Shepherd also singled out the restrictions on contracts available to business, the grounds on which industrial action can be taken and the fact that the union push for compulsory arbitration was “still not dead” as further causes for concern.

“Compulsory arbitration has been parked for the time being but that is still not dead and that could be extremely damaging both in greenfield – setting up greenfield agreements – and in certainly long-term industrial disputes,’’ he said.

Mr Shorten played down the significance of BHP’s pointed criticism on Wednesday, arguing that it was “not uncommon for mining companies like BHP Billiton to exert their point of view on industrial relations”.

“Just because a giant mining company says that we shouldn’t tackle the surge of workplace bullying doesn’t mean that the government is going to immediately give up protecting victims,” Mr Shorten said.

“When BHP Billiton says we shouldn’t do anything on workplace bullying, my view is I will listen to BHP Billiton’s view like I do everyone else’s. But I want to stand up as Labor does for victims of workplace bullying.

“The current status quo is not protecting Australian workers in poor-performing workplaces.”

Apr 16

The slippery and convenient concept of ‘class warfare’

art-WarofWordsCartoon-620x349A must read for anyone who is confused by the now widely used term ‘class warfare’ to describe Federal Labor’s policies; The slippery and convenient concept of ‘class warfare

The Gillard Government are constantly being accused of waging class warfare.  Yet the O’Farrell Government have started a class war that is routinely ignored by the press.   Injured workers amongst many others (cuts, cuts and more cuts)  are suffering as a result of O’Farrell Government reforms that clearly favour big business (insurance companies have never had it so good).

Great quote by Keane “Whenever “class warfare” is invoked, you can be sure that disproportionate or unjustified benefits for high-income earners or large corporations are under threat, benefits they would prefer to keep hidden.”

Apr 16

Will the right to be treated with dignity and respect at work become a commonly held value?

istock_000016625071small-builder-edited_edited-2

We can only hope that proposed changes will have the desired long-term effect of restoring civility to workplaces that fail to address workplace bullying

Workplace bullying is an abuse of power | Article | The Punch

A new independent right to complain about workplace bullying announced by the Gillard Government is a major step in the way we contemplate workplace rights.  But will it work?

The details are scant; Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten says the plan would allow the Fair Work Commission to try to solve disputes or refer matters back to state workplace safety authorities. The Commission may be able to issue civil penalty orders and fines as high $33,000.

Best case scenario – working life may well get better for hundreds of thousands of Australian workers.

Revoltingly unnecessary workplace incivility will increasingly be consigned to yesteryear: while the right to be treated with dignity and respect at work becomes a commonly held value, perhaps even an expectation.

The commission’s proposed new role may also mean workplace bullying complainants will no longer need to navigate dodgy human resource departments, disingenuous internal investigations, competing legal definitions, adversarial insurance companies, disbelieving psychiatrists and ill-fitting anti-discrimination or criminal law remedies in their search for justice. A speedy end to a bullying complaint could well have benefits for business too – reducing the costs of litigation, internal investigations, absenteeism and reduced productivity.

Worst case scenario – Well the usual critics have suggested the commission’s new jurisdiction means broadening the bullying definition beyond the legal confines of ‘OHS’;  meaning petty industrial disputes about unsavoury, two-way behaviour may be litigated.  Industry groups say the result will be more costs, more interference in ‘managerial prerogative’ and complaints used an industrial tool to push agendas and hurt enemies.

But it must be remembered ‘workplace bullying’ entered the popular lexicon in this country after the suicides of café worker Brodie Panlock and ambulance officer Christine Hodder.

Even this week Government agency Safe Work Australia surveyed close to 6000 workers and concluded 6.8% of Australian workers experienced bullying in the second half of 2012 – compared to international rates of about 1% to 4%.

Bullying did not become a national issue because of incidents of minor workplace politics. Increasingly the community has wanted something done. As stories of horrendous workplace warfare continue to surface industry remains painfully short on meaningful solutions and heavy on absolutist opposition to any further workplace regulation.

Bullying is at heart an abuse of power, the result of an asymmetry which may only ever be effectively remedied by legal intervention.

However, a collaborative, problem-solving approach is needed at commission hearings. In my view penalties should be kept to a minimum – though the very threat is likely to make workplaces become more civilised and better managed; bullying will now finally be taken seriously.

We may be back to where we started from if workplace bullying cases rest on technical, tit-for-tat, drawn out questions of whether impugned acts fit the legal definition of bullying (which will likely be “repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety”); legal definitions of bullying are imperfect, the result of political compromise and often highly nebulous.

Complainants already face the difficult task of proving certain things occurred – often without any witnesses and against the full resources of their employer.

Those accused of bullying often don’t even realise the impact of their behaviour, many are shocked to be labelled bullies. Many managers and co-workers need guidance, training and awareness rather than punishment.

The introduction of new commission anti-bullying powers also goes some way to divorce workplace bullying from the bizarre bureaucracy of ‘mental stress injury’ compensation claims. Contested mental injury claims are usually deeply damaging, zero-sum liability games which almost always result in massive costs for business (win or lose) and a complainant driven to complete despair.

Civility in Australian workplaces has been lagging behind international standards for quite some time and for the countless victims, this move by the government is long overdue.

Can Government regulation make people nicer?  We are about to find out.

Apr 16

Fair Work Amendments: Employers will no longer be safeguarded by well-written bullying policies and procedures

Fair work australiaMost organisations now have workplace bullying policies and procedures.  They sound great in theory, however, are often not followed in practice.  Under proposed changes employees will have the power to personally initiate a prosecution via the FWC, without necessarily dealing with the issue initially in accordance with their employer’s internal workplace bullying policies and procedures. This means employers are not safeguarded by their policies and procedures, regardless of how well-written and watertight they are or appear to be

Workplace bullying: the new proposed laws and what they could mean

Workplace bullying and harassment is a serious issue impacting many businesses across Australia and it’s been on the rise over the last few years. A study of adult workers in 2010 by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) found that 35 per cent had suffered from some form of bullying in the workplace, in the form of being verbally abused, the target of offensive conduct (intimidation) or sabotaged. Another study in 2011 by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that 1 in 4 professionals claim to have been bullied at some point during their career and that 20 per cent of all workplace bullying takes place on social media. To drive home the seriousness of this issue, and bullying in general, in 2012 more than 2,500 people committed suicide in Australia and in more than 80 per cent of cases, bullying was found to be a major contributing factor.

The Proposed New Laws

The Australian Federal Government has recently taken notice (on 21st March 2013) and has proposed an amendment (Fair Work Amendment Bill 2013) to existing laws (Fair Work Act 2009 Cth) to give the Fair Work Commission (FWC) the power to deal with workplace bullying complaints by conducting investigations. The new Bill is expected to become effective from 1st July 2013. At the recent launch of the Bully Free Foundation in Melbourne, Julia Gillard said “that if the proposed amendments are enacted by Parliament bullying victims would be able to have their complaints heard ‘quickly and affordably’, with the focus of the investigations being to stop bullying before ‘it goes too far’”.

This means that any worker who ‘reasonably believes’ they are, or have been, the victim of workplace bullying will be able to apply to the FWC to have an investigation conducted into the matter and have their grievances heard. If the FWC investigators determine that workplace bullying is currently taking, or has taken place in the past, and there is a risk that bullying will continue in the future, the FWC will issue an order to the victim’s employer to have them immediately stop the bullying.

In this regard, a “worker” is ‘any person who carries out work in a capacity for another person who is conducting a business; including contractors, volunteers, apprentices and even students who are on work experience’. “Bullying” is also defined as being ‘repeated, unreasonable behaviours directed towards a worker or group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety’. It does not include ‘reasonable management practices’ related to performance management or disciplinary action. For example, a worker who feels stressed because they cannot hit their sales target by a set deadline could not claim that they are being bullied.

The FWC will deal with applications for investigations as a matter of priority, with all matters being listed for consideration within 14 days. In considering the terms of the order following the investigation, the FWC will take into account whether they are already internal procedures in place for the handling of workplace bullying complaints. Examples of the orders that the FWC will make under the Bill include an order requiring:

  • the individual or group of individuals, who have been found to be responsible for the bullying, to immediately stop the specified behaviour;
  • the employer to regularly monitor specified behaviours in the workplace;
  • the provision of information (teaching employees about the issue) and additional support and training for workers that teaches them how to identify, manage and eliminate workplace bullying; and
  • the employer to conduct a full review of their existing workplace bullying policies and update them in relation to stopping the specified behaviours.

Once an order has been issued by the FWC, any person who contravenes the order would be liable to a maximum penalty of $10,200. There is also a civil penalty offence for the employer if they fail to comply with any order issued by the FWC.

The new Bill represents a significant change to the current legislation. Prior to the Bill’s introduction, bullying could only be officially raised as an example of conduct that may breach adverse action provisions within the Fair Work Act or unfair dismissal laws. Also, current laws in each state and territory only give the work health and safety regulators the authority to investigate serious bullying allegations, and if necessary, to prosecute perpetrators. This means, prior to the Bill, workers themselves had no way to personally initiate a prosecution.

What could these new proposed laws mean for employers?

  1. Employers would face the risk of being subject to a new type of workplace claim. Employers should therefore seek legal advice and consider putting in place procedures and processes designed to minimise this risk wherever possible. This should be seen as part of a wider organisation risk management strategy.
  2. Existing workplace policies that relate to bullying would need to be re-examined and updated accordingly. Also, if there is any doubt about whether current management practices are ‘reasonable’, legal advice should be sought. However, just because a worker is being reasonably managed will not prevent them from lodging an application with the FWC.
  3. Employees would have the power to personally initiate a prosecution via the FWC, without necessarily dealing with the issue initially in accordance with their employer’s internal workplace bullying policies and procedures. This means employers are not safeguarded by their policies and procedures, regardless of how well-written and watertight they are or appear to be.
  4. Bullying is becoming an increasingly important issue for all parties concerned, including the Government. Employers would need to keep up-to-date with the progress of this Bill and any future changes to laws that have an impact on bullying in their workplace.
  5. In defending against workplace bullying claims, it would be important for employers to act swiftly and comply with the FWC. Any delay in doing this, or a complete failure to do so, could mean hefty penalties. Therefore, employers should not wait for an investigation to begin before seeking legal advice, but rather seek legal advice immediately and prepare for any investigation should they arise in the future.

Apr 15

Backpacker dies on building site that had safety issues: union

Brian  Parker

A 22-year-old Canadian backpacker has died at a building site that a union said was shut down at Easter because of concerns about safety.

Newtown police along with WorkCover are investigating the circumstances around the young man’s death on Australia Street in Camperdown on Saturday. Emergency services attended the old Nurses Union building about 11.45am after reports a man had suffered head and chest injuries after being hit by a number of metal beams.

Fairfax Media understands the young Canadian was on a holiday work visa and had only been taken on by the company Ceerose a week ago.

Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union NSW secretary Brian Parker said it angered him that a worker had died despite recent attempts to improve safety.

Mr Parker said he believed the builders were digging at the bottom of the building and one of the slabs collapsed. Mr Parker also raised concerns about the abilities of WorkCover to investigate, saying: ”It worries us that WorkCover can’t do a proper investigation due to recent staff cuts and expertise that has been lost.”

Apr 15

No laughing matter: NSW WorkCover Scheme transfers costs and responsibility for injured workers to taxpayers

O'farrell laughingThere is a clear pattern emerging based on stories we are hearing from injured workers and their solicitors that are quite alarming. New workers comp laws simply make it much easier for insurers to discard injured workers rather than assist them.   Ongoing medical costs can now be easily transferred to the public health system along with weekly benefits to unemployment benefits/ disability pensions.

The bottom line is that insurers are making significant profits at the expense of employers, injured workers and taxpayers.

Examples

1. Retrospectivity of workers compensation laws

A number of injured workers have been informed by Work Cover, when making inquiries, that any previous legal rulings under old laws along with entitlements would no long be honoured and they would likely be sent for a capacity assessment and have benefits cut – forcing injured workers onto Centrelink payments or disability pensions.

2.  Work capacity assessments

We have heard of a number of cases where severely injured workers are now being sent letters informing them of a 3 month notice to cease ongoing medical and weekly benefits and are being forced to apply for taxpayer funded disability support pensions and ongoing medical treatment from the public health system.

3. Impairment assessments

Other injured workers whose conditions have deteriorated are not having revised Whole Person Impairments recognised.  They are being told that under new laws they may only have one assessment which doesn’t take into account that some conditions deteriorate which prevents compensation for further disability, however, more importantly it prevents access to ongoing and necessary medical treatment.

4. Hostile environment

One injured worker who scheduled for major surgery was informed that he was required to undergo a work capacity assessment just prior to his operation and if he didn’t attend his benefits would cease.  This is despite the fact that the full extent of capacity wouldn’t be known for at least 10 months after the operation.  This highlights just how hostile insurers have become and also adds additional pressures on insurance company and rehabilitation case managers to comply with misguided policies and procedures.

Apr 13

Science second in toxic CSIRO work culture

th-CSIRO4-90x60

Science second in toxic CSIRO work culture

Linton Besser and Nicky Phillips.

Workplace conflict is driving staff away.

Midway through last year, a loose alliance of disgruntled former staff – including some very prominent scientists – created a website called victimsofcsiro.com, and began publishing allegations against their former employer.

The obscure blog was a low-key beginning to what has become a full-throated campaign in which some disgruntled scientists claim the independence and, therefore, credibility of Australia’s peak scientific body is threatened by government and now industry interference. They also claim the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation has largely jettisoned pure science and is a toxic workplace where bullying is rife and outrageous behaviour by some managers has been ignored.

Top-flight researchers have departed to find scientific freedom elsewhere. 

A parliamentary committee examining workplace bullying published the group’s submission that claimed there were 60 cases of top-flight scientists and others who were harassed and frozen out.

Dennis PearceHeading the inquiry: Former Commonwealth ombudsman Dennis Pearce. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

This list included Maarten Stapper, a soil scientist allegedly pushed out because of his criticism of genetically modified crops, globally recognised oceanographer Trevor McDougall, and award-winning entomologist Sylwester Chyb.

The CSIRO, in an awkward position as a government agency, could not respond publicly to the allegations. In December, after a lengthy investigation Comcare issued CSIRO with a legal notice ordering ”improvement” of the way it handled workplace misconduct. Soon the opposition was claiming it was aware of 100 individual cases of bullying.

In February Megan Clark responded. The chief executive placed a letter on the CSIRO website announcing her decision to establish an ”independent inquiry” into workplace bullying, which is now being run by a consultant and former Commonwealth ombudsman Dennis Pearce.

Sylwester Chyb former CSIRO scientist In dispute: Entomologist Sylwester Chyb is taking action against his former employer. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones

The ”victims of CSIRO” group is unimpressed by the scope CSIRO gave Pearce, while senior CSIRO officials are unimpressed by the claims the inquiry has been set up to examine. At a recent Senate hearing, Mike Whelan, a deputy chief executive, said: ”Lots of allegations have been tossed around by stakeholders and media in recent times, and I would have to say that the bases for some of those are pretty dodgy.”

Whelan may be right. Some have hitched themselves to the campaign with dubious claims of mistreatment; others were themselves the subject of adverse findings for bullying.

The group suffered a blow recently when the Fair Work Commission dismissed an application by the ”victims” spokesman Andrew Hooley to be granted an extension of time to appeal against his February 2011 dismissal from the CSIRO: ”There is no evidence upon which I could be satisfied that CSIRO took prejudicial action against Mr Hooley either before or after his employment ended.”

Dr Megan Clark Chief Executive CSIROHolding the reins: Dr Megan Clark, Chief Executive CSIRO. Photo: Bohdan Warchomij

But there are other people attached to the group who have the potential to embarrass the organisation. The most serious surfaced in December, when a court made adverse findings about two senior CSIRO officials. One, Damien Thomas, was found to have sent a ”deliberately false” email in an attempt to mislead business manager Martin Williams.

Another, Calum Drummond, was found by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to have given evidence that could not be trusted. He had denied to the court that during the affair he had sidestepped the organisation’s formal recruitment process. Of his evidence, deputy president James Constance said: ”I am not satisfied that Dr Drummond was a reliable witness and I do not make any findings of fact based on his evidence.” Drummond now sits one rung below the chief executive.

The Williams case was a glimpse of another side of the organisation rarely seen by the public.

Senior figures of the CSIRO accept the organisation can sometimes be riven by conflict. They accept, too, that the institute has shifted away from ”pure science”. Some of those who have left say it acts increasingly as a research arm of industry and the federal government. Now, 16 reviews, which were previously confidential, of the organisation largely confirm this view.

The change is having a deleterious effect on staff. Top-flight researchers have departed to find scientific freedom elsewhere while others have been pushed out. Money is scarce. And as the organisation slides into what insiders have described as a ”consultancy” culture, as the funding for fundamental science has dwindled, so the CSIRO’s researchers have learnt to claw at each other to get it.

The obvious question is why. If it is true the CSIRO is riven by conflict and overseen by clubby, inept management, how could this have happened?

Some sheet home blame to CSIRO’s former chief executive Geoff Garrett. Before his appointment in 2000, each division of the organisation directed its own science, and its leaders enjoyed utter autonomy. Garrett bombshelled these silos, introducing a corporate hierarchy that funnelled to him and to his entourage control over funds. With the money went control of the direction of the organisation.

It is widely accepted the CSIRO needed change – that the power of the division chiefs sometimes prevented collaboration and fostered expensive duplication. But Garrett’s critics say that in his war on the past, the best elements of the CSIRO’s science culture became collateral damage.

Scientists suddenly had what felt like sales targets. Groups of researchers had to bring into the organisation a share of what they were spending in contracts with companies and others. Perhaps more than any other factor, it is the heavy emphasis on ”applied” science that has prompted the CSIRO’s internal malaise.

Stephen Cameron, an entomologist now working for the Queensland University of Technology, attended a retreat in about March 2008 that was meant to be a forum to discuss the future direction of the CSIRO’s entomology division. There, in front of a room of at least 100 people, a senior CSIRO executive addressed the question of funding for basic research.

”There was … a discussion of the academic side of things and [the question of] when you have time to write up papers from projects,” he recalled. ”What most people do is to put a white lie in … and put in ‘analysis’ to cover the period when the writing would happen.”

He said what followed was a question of ”how do you get new ideas off the ground and do exploratory work because you’re meant to spend all the money on the wheat council project, for example”.

”That’s when [the executive] said: ‘you have to do skunk work’.” Both he and the entomologist Sylwester Chyb (who is embroiled in litigation with the CSIRO) say the terms were a colloquialism for using money from paying customers to pay for side projects more useful for the CSIRO’s global reputation.

The CSIRO dug up the presentation in question. The slide that accompanied the remarks said: ”Keep ‘skunking’; Don’t sell 100 per cent of yourself; leave some time for developing ideas, early stage research.” A CSIRO spokesman said the executive was simply telling the audience to keep ”working harder”.

But the pressure for outside money is so great that observers see it too, including formal panels of scientists appointed to review the organisation every four years. Researchers feel ”sliced and diced” and ”disempowered”, the reviews say, by the need to adhere to what paying customers want. ”Dividing their time amongst three, four or even more projects … impacts negatively on morale and, in turn, productivity.”

One division in 2010 was said to be suffering from ”an inward-looking culture; low morale in some areas; an ever-increasing demand to earn external income; confused lines of communication and responsibility”.

The CSIRO executive responsible for managing these reviews, Jack Steele, said the high targets for external funding were partly a ”perception” issue, as they were set after government funds paid for the infrastructure that supports each team of researchers.

”Are we thinking … we should be funding all of our research … from appropriation and there should not be external revenue targets? Or is it appropriate that industry is investing in the R&D that is relevant to that industry’s future?” Steele said.

But the pressure for revenue is clearly the cause of much angst inside the CSIRO. Some feel they carry a ”disproportionate burden” of low-grade projects directed by paying customers which ”will eventually lead to unhappiness and dissent”.

Similarly, the fact that only some scientists enjoy full funding ”may in time lead to some tension with those groups that have very high external earnings targets”.

One panel feared that established scientists would be ”frozen out” of fundamental research projects by managers anxious to keep them available for the industry jobs that bring in external cash.

The result of much of this turmoil is the departure of good people. Leading scientists have been repeatedly lured away. ”A number of first-class scientists have left the [land and water] division … for opportunities they considered would give them more scientific freedom and more opportunity to make major contributions in their fields of science,” the most recent external review of 2009 said.

Meanwhile in other areas, a clubby atmosphere, or ”over-reliance on promoting from within” has blocked promotion for younger researchers.

The CSIRO deputy chief executive Craig Roy said the organisation had ”looked very hard” at its culture over the past decade. ”We have done a lot of work in the space of learning and development about how people get on in the workplace,” he said. ”How you have difficult conversations if you need to … it doesn’t always come naturally to people.”

He also said that ”if you want to be top 10 in the world, you need a very strong performance-based culture. And sometimes that can create some difficulties, but I think we’re also a compassionate organisation.”

By July, Megan Clark will have an idea as to how large a problem workplace conflict has been in the CSIRO, when the first of three reports by Pearce is delivered. This report, a ”high-level” document that outlines ”the overarching findings and recommendations” from the first phase of his inquiry, will be made public.

A second, confidential, report due in February will tell her which submissions are sufficiently well-evidenced to be investigated during a second phase. But Pearce’s scope will restrict these investigations to matters that have not been ”formally investigated in a fair manner, or which have been or are being considered by a judicial or administrative body”. It will not cover events before 2005, nor consider complaints from current staff or allegations against former employees.

In the meantime, Roy is adamant the organisation has performed miracles over the past decade. ”I find it quite astounding,” he said, ”that we’ve been able to lift our external impact, maintain our science, lift our external revenue demonstrably, and have a low separation rate and a high staff satisfaction rate.”

Do you know more?

investigations@smh.com.au

Apr 12

Widow’s anger: ‘Everyone has a right to come home’

Workplace health and safety

‘Everyone has the right to come home’

When Kristy Kolomaka heard a man had died after a sheet of glass fell on him, she wanted to reach out to his family.

Having lost her own husband in a workplace accident, she knew the shocking pain of being told your husband wasn’t coming home at the end of his shift.

“I felt for that family, if I knew who the people were I would have called them. I just wanted to say ‘I know what you’re going through’.”

It’s been five years since Setaleki Kolomaka died at BlueScope Steel’s Port Kembla site, after losing control of a steel lance, forcing a deadly blast of water into his chest.

Wollongong Coroner’s Court found Mr Kolomaka’s death had been avoidable and was the result of multiple workplace safety failings by his employer, Allied Industrial Services.

Deputy State Coroner Ian Guy said a lack of proper equipment, inadequate training of supervisors, and the absence of a risk assessment, had led to the tragedy.

For Mrs Kolomaka, the emotions are still raw.

So news that seven WorkCover safety inspectors could be “sacked”, was “extremely distressing” to the mother of three who thinks everything possible should be done to protect workers.

“Considering what we’ve gone through in losing my husband, to me, without those kind of people (inspectors) there to police things, it’s distressing for someone like me,” Mrs Kolomaka said.

“It took something like what happened for it to sink in that workplaces are dangerous. At the end of the day human beings shouldn’t be a number, everyone has a right to come home.

“To have these people sacked, it’s not fair for them and not fair for workers themselves.”

Mrs Kolomaka said Easter was tough for her girls – the youngest only five when she lost her dad on May 22, 2008.

“She can’t remember him … knowing that it has happened to us, it can happen to anyone. That’s what a lot of people don’t understand or think about.

“It took my husband to die to get answers. So now to lose seven people who are there to help make sure our loved ones are safe at work and actually make it home, I think it’s ridiculous to get rid of them.

“They (the government) should stop and think about people for a change instead of thinking about saving dollars.”

Apr 12

Union fears demise of work safety watchdog

safe at work

Union fears demise of work safety watchdog

Wollongong workers and the general public would be at grave risk of injury if the NSW government pushed ahead with plans to axe the region’s safety inspectors, a union claims.

Seven WorkCover NSW inspectors in Wollongong were set to lose their jobs, meaning the construction industry would be without “front-line policing”, Brian Parker said yesterday.

The CFMEU secretary called on the government to come clean on what it had planned, saying he believed the job cuts in Wollongong would be “the opening salvo in a bid to slash inspector numbers at the safety authority”.

“Given the important role WorkCover inspectors are meant to play in maintaining safety on construction sites, we are demanding to know what is going on,” Mr Parker said.

“Just last month, a 37-year-old man was killed at a Wollongong glass manufacturer when a sheet of glass fell on top of him.

“It is appalling that we can have fatalities on job sites and at the same time, WorkCover is cutting inspector numbers.”

The WorkCover Authority was called to investigate the man’s death at Coniston on March 8.

He was crushed under the weight of eight large sheets of toughened glass. The load fell as the man was handling the three-metre-high sheets, each weighing about 100 kilograms.

Workers tried to help him while paramedics were called to the site, a glass manufacturer on John Cleary Place.

Mr Parker said yesterday that losing seven WorkCover positions meant “no tough cops on the beat”.

“To be honest, we are appalled at the situation,” he said.

“In the industry, there are a lot of inferior products coming in from overseas, a lot of the work is high risk … stuff like steel structures and scaffolding coming in, so there will be no policing of that.

“It really means no people left on the beat any more.”

Mr Parker said “unscrupulous employers would cut safety programs to the bone” because there would be no one to enforce the rules.

“When you are looking at inferior materials coming into the country from places, like China and Taiwan, and big steel structures in the air … our fears are just not for the workers in Wollongong, we are fearful for the general public as well.”

Mr Parker said the government had “ripped the guts” out of workers’ compensation system and was now adding to the burden workers faced, by removing “what little safety enforcement remained”.

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