WorkCover Bullying Inquiry Shows Regulator Failing


This week’s Parliamentary report into WorkCover bullying confirms what many workers both inside and outside WorkCover have known for some time – it is an organisation in turmoil with an entrenched culture of bullying that is failing in its task of protecting NSW workers

There is one pretty obvious reason why this matter needs to be high on the public’s agenda. WorkCover is responsible for addressing bullying in other workplaces. It clearly can’t do that job when it is itself has a toxic internal bullying culture.

Coupled with its failure to address bullying in workplaces across the state, is the human cost of bullying being paid by far too many of WorkCover’s own employees. If they are being bullied by the work safety regulator who do they turn to?

Currently the answer is WorkCover and the evidence presented to the committee was that WorkCover responded as you would expect a bully to respond, appallingly.

When I moved for this inquiry in June last year it was in response to many concerning reports to my office of bullying within WorkCover.

The many people who contacted me, including current and former WorkCover employees, were desperate for the parliament to shine a light on WorkCover.

Matters came to a head in June 2013 when the state’s Industrial Relations Commission ordered the reinstatement of a WorkCover employee, Wayne Butler.

The IRC found that WorkCover’s decision to investigate and ultimately terminate Mr Butler was a premeditated “witch hunt” that was “devoid of any common sense or fairness [and]not a process grounded in fairness or objective, evidence based decision making.”

It is to the credit of the Upper House that the motion to establish the inquiry was passed unanimously on 27 June 2013, just six days after the decision in Mr Butler’s case was handed down by the IRC.

On the very first day of the committee’s hearings it was obvious that WorkCover was in denial about the extent of the problem.

When the organisation’s Chief Executive Officer and its Chief Human Resources Officer were asked directly if they accepted the findings of the IRC in the Butler case they ducked, they weaved, they obfuscated and ultimately they denied.

They admitted they had never apologised to Mr Butler.

The Chief Human Resources Officer said he didn’t think WorkCover had to accept the findings of the IRC.

WorkCover’s CEO then suggested there was other, undisclosed, evidence that supported WorkCover’s decision.

After months of haggling with WorkCover to provide this evidence nothing fresh was supplied by WorkCover to substantiate the claim.

Mr Butler, who remains employed by WorkCover, heard this evidence. As he later submitted to the committee: “I was quite disheartened to hear of further public allegations made against my good character during evidence given to the enquiry … These are unspecified insinuations of wrongdoing by me that will remain on the public record for all time. I am left in the unenviable position of being unable to know what these other issues are and respond to them accordingly. You will appreciate that this situation is damaging to my reputation and hurtful to myself and my family.”

The committee accepted Mr Butler’s position. In its unanimous report the first two recommendations are that WorkCover provide a public and sincere apology to Mr Butler.

The committee also found that bullying within WorkCover is rife and senior management have consistently failed to address this.

This is despite a number of supposedly “independent” inquiries, including the Price Waterhouse Coopers report in February 2011 that were initiated by WorkCover at significant expense to supposedly address bullying

Rather than fixing the culture and practices in WorkCover the reviews themselves were the only response to bullying.

They made weak findings, proposing limited action, and left it to the management which was at the heart of the problem to implement change. Not surprisingly this changed nothing.

The contrast in the strong findings and recommendations of the Parliamentary Inquiry, compared to those of the PWC review are a strong argument in favour of the rigour of the Parliamentary Inquiry process when approached in a non-partisan manner.

The responsibility for WorkCover’s ongoing failure to address bullying rests squarely with senior management. However it is also fair to say that to date no government, Labor or Coalition, has had the gumption to thoroughly review WorkCover’s internal failings.

This is, after all, the regulator that is meant to be advising the government on its overall response to bullying.

With the publication of this report there is now nowhere for WorkCover to hide.

This is an organization in distress, and that distress is leaving working people across the State without the protection they need from bullying and other threats to their workplace safety.

The Committee’s 13 recommendations seek to address this broader need and include: new anti-bullying laws to protect all workers in NSW; genuinely independent oversight of WorkCover; greater protections for injured workers; and changes to the structure of WorkCover’s board to ensure it is focused on addressing these failures.

These recommendations must be implemented. Anyone who is aware of the history would be rightly skeptical that WorkCover has the will to deliver these necessary changes.

The Committee thought some ‘encouragement’ was needed and for this reason resolved to undertake a further inquiry at the end of this year to see what, if any, change has occurred in WorkCover.

In the meantime it is important to have more people watching, closely, to see WorkCover’s first step.

It’s not hard. It starts with one pretty simple word: “sorry”.

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