A Canberra retirement home for military veterans is being rocked by a bullying scandal that has forced the ACT's work safety authority to intervene.
The Morshead retirement village in Canberra's inner north has been ordered by WorkSafe ACT to investigate serious allegations of bullying. Work Safety Commissioner Mark McCabe said an ''improvement notice'' had been issued to Morshead to conduct an independent inquiry into accusations of harassment.
The home said yesterday that it was ready to comply with the WorkSafe order and had begun work, before the commissioner became involved, to address the workplace culture at the Lyneham retirement village.
Mr McCabe did not name the home and said he could not provide details of the allegations but The Canberra Times understands that fears have been raised at board level for at least six months that the welfare of staff and even residents at Morshead was at risk.
It is also alleged that more than 11 workers have walked away from their jobs at the home during the past six months because of the bullying.
Morshead, established to care for ageing veterans in the mid-1960s, has been taking all retirees since the mid 1990s but still retains close ties to the military establishment, with a requirement for board members to have a defence background.
Mr McCabe said his action should act as a warning to other community-sector organisations about workplace laws.
''A WorkSafe ACT inspector has issued an improvement notice directing the board to commence an investigation into serious allegations by several of the organisation's workers,'' Commissioner McCabe said.
''This is a reminder to board members and senior executives in all organisations, be they public or private sector, of their obligation to take all reasonable steps to ensure the health and safety of their workers.''
The board's chairman, John King, who is also president of the ACT branch of the Returned and Services League, said he and his colleagues had begun to address the problems at Morshead.
''In reality, we already have initiated action and the board decided that we were going to look at allegations of harassment in the home,'' Mr King said.
''We have diverse cultures there, coming from four or five different nationalities around the world and of course there's culture clashes, different points of view on how things should be done.
''We'd decided, before this action commenced, that we were going to bring in an industrial relations consultant who would review the culture of the people who work for us and review our policies and procedures, just to make sure that we're compliant under the act.''
Mr King said that the board had not been presented with enough evidence to substantiate any allegations of bullying or harassment.
''We didn't get enough information to decide guilt or other wise so the board has decided to bring in an outside person to get this thing thoroughly looked at and we'll act on the recommendations of the consultant's brief,'' he said.
The chairman said he would comply with the commissioner's order for an independent investigation, but that Morshead needed more detailed instructions from WorkSafe.
''All investigations need a basis for them to start, but at this point of time I don't have that,'' he said.
''But I'm trying to get some dialogue going between myself and Mr McCabe.''