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CSIRO bully accusations 'dodgy', says executive

The CSIRO facility on Limestone Avenue.

The CSIRO facility on Limestone Avenue. Photo: Andrew Sheargold

Some of the bullying and harassment claims from within the CSIRO are ''pretty dodgy'', according to a senior executive.

As the CSIRO announced details of its independent review of its workplace culture, Commonwealth parliamentarians have been told to treat with caution some of the claims made by former employees.

CSIRO chief executive Megan Clark told staff on Monday that the review would be led by former Commonwealth ombudsman and emeritus professor Dennis Pearce, one of Australia's leading experts on administrative law.

The organisation has been dogged for several years by claims of bullying and harassment, one group of alleged victims garnering considerable publicity and setting up victimsofcsiro.com to pursue their cause.

But CSIRO deputy chief executive of operations Mike Whelan told a Senate estimates committee in Canberra last week that some of the claims that had attracted publicity were suspect.

''Lots of allegations have been tossed around by stakeholders and media in recent times and I would have to say that the basis for some of those are pretty dodgy,'' he said.

''Over the last three years, to October 2012, there have been 11 allegations of bullying and harassment made in the CSIRO and 10 of those have subsequently not been substantiated.''

Mr Whelan was also critical of the claims made on the site.

''There are entries on that website that purport to detail the case studies of at least 14 victims of CSIRO and I know for a fact that two of the individuals cited there have indicated to CSIRO that they are not victims, that they have not supported the material being put on that website and that they are uncomfortable about being associated with this,'' he said.

In her bulletin to the organisation's 6600 workers, Dr Clark said the CSIRO installation at Black Mountain in Canberra was now fully compliant with the ''improvement notice'' handed out by Commonwealth workplace safety authority Comcare last year.

''Misconduct procedures have been updated to include a health risk assessment, amendments have been made to reflect changes to the medical assessment process and we've updated our reporting and recording mechanisms,'' she wrote.

''We also have guidelines for the governance of complex cases.''

Of the two-stage review, Dr Clark said: ''Professor Pearce will investigate claims of former staff of bullying and harassment within the organisation … The investigation team will first seek submissions with the aim of providing an interim report by May 2013.

''We envisage that this report will cover the number and nature of claims made … It may also contain recommendations on matters that require further examination.

''This will occur in phase two of the review, which may take a further six months or more depending on the number of matters.''

10 comments

  • If Comcare gave CSIRO an 'improvement notice' it is because the employees (through their lawyer) have won their legal case for bullying and harassment and have sufficient evidence that they were subjected to unfair and unreasonable practices and their health was damaged as a result. Dodgy claims for that sort of thing don't get through Comcare's detailed scrutiny. So CSIRO investigate 11 claims of bulling and harassment internally and 10 have not been substantiated. Just goes to show how flawed and unreliable CSIRO's internal investigations are. They clear themselves of any wrong-doing through internal investigations to try to avoid liability for any subsequent claim for damages, then claim to the media that they are 'dodgy' claims to make the organisation look better publicly. Yet CSIRO have updated their processes at Comcare's instructions? You would have to be a fool to think that 'unfair and unreasonable' processes are unlikely to result in bullying and harassment and cause damage to an employee. Clearly CSIRO are trying to reduce the impression and effect of the term "bullying and harassment" by stating they were just flawed processes (ie. trivial).

    Commenter
    Felix
    Location
    ACT
    Date and time
    February 20, 2013, 9:08AM
    • It is near impossible to get Comcare compensation for psychological injuries. These sort of claims end up in Tribunal because employers like CSIRO misrepresent their actions, withhold evidence and drag the process out. Comcare is more than happy to listen to the employer hoping the claimant will give up. For Comcare to actually investigate the workplace AND find breached of health and safety legislation is very rare. Imposing Notice of Improvement is almost unheard of. Yet CSIRO got 2 notices in 2012 and their Comcare premium skyrocketed. Surely it must mean something!

      Commenter
      The truth about Comcare and CSIRO
      Date and time
      February 20, 2013, 10:14AM
      • Yes, and sadly those managers who withhold evidence in an attempt to avoid liability (which BTW constitutes fraud under Comcare's own guidelines) are never dealt with under the Public Service Act either. Such matters are never referred to the Public Service Commission as a breach of the APS Code of Conduct despite the fact that under the PS Act those managers are required to behave with honest and integrity. How is 'withholding documents and evidence in an attempt to fraudulently evade liabilty' "acting with honesty and integrity"? The mind boggles. No point referring it to the the Agency Head either who most likely prefer to turn a blind eye to such matters perhaps even promoting those who undertake such action on behalf of the Agency. It's not a problem that is unique to CSIRO, it's just that in this case it took 12 employees and a lawyer to at least get Comare to issue an improvement notice. Other such individual cases where similar action should be taken are simply swept under the rug.

        Commenter
        Rob
        Location
        ACT
        Date and time
        February 20, 2013, 7:16PM
    • Maybe it is the internal CSIRO grievance processes which are 'dodgy'?

      Commenter
      Trusted advisor
      Date and time
      February 20, 2013, 10:18AM
      • If management's response is anything other than to be happy to face external scrutiny to clear things up, they probably have something to hide. To attack serious claims by calling them "dodgy", even if they turn out to be so, makes me suspicious of the CSIRO management culture and adds credence to the claims of a toxic culture.

        Commenter
        Sceptic
        Date and time
        February 20, 2013, 10:22AM
        • CEO of BHP is leaving. Maybe they want Megan Clark back???

          Commenter
          Breaking news
          Date and time
          February 20, 2013, 11:15AM
          • This reminds me of a time, that I worked for a Dodgy SES officer, who was the major perpetrator only to find out that all forms of complaints had to go through him, with all his mates around- it was laughable. The good thing is karma is a law- it was a matter of time he was shown the door.

            Commenter
            Mertonian
            Location
            Canberra
            Date and time
            February 20, 2013, 12:21PM
            • Pot calling the kettle black!
              * CSIRO in criticising this website have failed to substantiate their claims also
              * CSIRO has been forced to correct testimony provided to the Senate Estimates Committee and have been accused by members of the committee and other parliamentarians of providing misleading statements
              * Testimony of Senior CSIRO employees was dismissed and discredited in a recent Administrative Appeals Tribunal decision in December 2012.
              * Recently issued Comcare Improvement Notice challenges the notion that CSIRO internal processes are adequate, despite repeated suggestions by CSIRO spin doctors to the contrary.
              Enough said!

              Commenter
              Concerned Ex-Employee
              Date and time
              February 20, 2013, 1:32PM
              • Scientists are very clever people. They often excel in the subtlety and innovation they show in their bullying and harassment. So much so that proof of bullying or harassment by an outsider is very difficult...

                Commenter
                Gardener1
                Date and time
                February 20, 2013, 6:29PM
                • Yes the Black Mountain site has issues, but, the CSIRO Atherton site in North Queensland takes the cake in this issue.

                  Commenter
                  CliffStrong
                  Date and time
                  February 20, 2013, 9:39PM
                  Comments are now closed
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