Australia launching measures to curb workplace bullying

Australia launching measures to curb workplace bullying

Australia has introduced measures to curb workplace bullying but this has angered the business community which says dealing with complaints will be costly and time-consuming.

For a fee of A$65 (S$73), victims can now apply to the nation's workplace watchdog, the Fair Work Commission, to request an order for the bullying to stop.

Examples of bullying listed by the commission include making belittling comments, spreading malicious rumours, staging practical jokes, excluding staff members from work-related events, pressuring them to behave in an inappropriate manner and having unreasonable expectations of them.

The commission will be able to order the employer to take on anti-bullying measures and training or order a guilty worker to undergo counselling.

Releasing details of the measures before their commencement today, the commission's president, Justice Iain Ross, said in November they were aimed at preventing bullying rather than punishing employers.

"(This) is not an avenue to provide compensation to those who have been subjected to bullying; nor is it about penalising employers," he said in a statement. "All parties will be treated fairly and relevant parties will be given an opportunity to be heard."

The new laws aim for a quick resolution of bullying and require the commission to start dealing with complaints within a fortnight of lodgement. Introduced by the previous Labor government, they define bullying as "repeated unreasonable behaviour" and said "reasonable" efforts to manage workers do not count as bullying.

At least 350,000 Australians are bullied in their job each year, leading to depression, lost work days and even suicides. Estimates of the economic cost range from A$6 billion to A$36 billion annually. The Fair Work Commission believes about 3,500 bullying claims will be made this year under the new measures. Before now, victims could lodge complaints with a variety of state and federal workplace safety regulators but there were no specific anti-bullying laws and the regulators dealt mainly with physical rather than psychological injuries.

An expert on workplace bullying in Australia, Associate Professor Diana Kelly from the University of Wollongong, said the laws were "a good start". But, she said, the onus was on the victim to take action even though many people are fearful to report workplace bullying.

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