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CSIRO ordered to act on bullying

Date

Noel Towell

The CSIRO facility on Limestone Avenue.

The CSIRO facility on Limestone Avenue. Photo: Andrew Sheargold

The federal work safety authority, Comcare, has officially ordered the CSIRO to protect its staff against psychological injuries caused by bullying and harassment.

The federal workplace insurance authority has issued an ''improvement notice'' to the science and technology organisation, saying its responses to bullying, misconduct, workplace conflict, psychological stress or injuries were not good enough.

There have been years of public allegations of a toxic workplace culture at the CSIRO, which employs about 6600 staff in 50 locations around Australia and overseas.

The CSIRO confirmed on Monday that it had received the notice and was willing to comply. A group of 12 former and serving employees, represented by law firm Maurice Blackburn, who are pushing for workplace reform were told last month the notice had been served on the organisation after a Comcare investigation.

Senior Comcare official Neil Quarmby wrote that the decision to issue the notice had been made after the insurer spent several months ''thoroughly reviewing the workplace systems relating to the prevention and management of bullying behaviour at CSIRO''.

''As a result of those investigations, and due to a range of deficiencies identified, Comcare has issued CSIRO with an Improvement Notice under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011,'' he wrote to the lawyers.

Specifically, the notice asks for ''the review and improvement of CSIRO's governance systems around the management of workplace misconduct and of allegations of bullying;

''The provision of training to CSIRO staff regarding misconduct, bullying and workplace conflict;

''The proper support and management of workers exhibiting psychological distress or injury;

''The implementation of systems ensuring regular workplace hazard and risk assessment of psychosocial risk factors; and

''The notification of incidents of bullying to Comcare.''

Maurice Blackburn principal Giri Sivaraman said the improvement notice was ''quite extensive and quite broad''.

''We think that Comcare is taking the allegations of bullying quite seriously and it's a very serious step to issue a provisional improvement notice and there are very serious consequences if CSIRO doesn't comply with that notice,'' Mr Sivaraman said.

''All of them [the clients] simply want to see the standards of CSIRO improve and a stop to workplace bullying at CSIRO.''

A CSIRO spokesman, Huw Morgan, confirmed the notice had been received.

''Comcare has issued CSIRO with an improvement notice to ensure CSIRO provides and maintains safe systems of work,'' Mr Morgan said.

''CSIRO is working with Comcare to implement the required

amendments to its policies and procedures and this process will be completed by December 31, 2012.''

Another former employee, Sylwester Chyb, who is taking court action against the CSIRO, said workplace bullying problems existed throughout the organisation.

''It happens across many divisions, all locations, it's pervasive,'' Dr Chyb said. ''I was a senior scientist but this happens to junior research staff, technicians, to administrators and people in IT.

''In a lot of cases it's payback for whistleblowing.''

In September, a parliamentary inquiry examining workplace bullying in Commonwealth federal agencies published a submission by a group of former employees, some of them leading scientists.

According to the submission, the group was aware of 60 cases involving top-flight scientists and other officials who were bullied or otherwise forced out of the organisation.

Fairfax Media also reported at the time that the CSIRO was facing mounting damages bills from occupational health and safety claims made to Comcare, with premiums Comcare charges the research organisation nearly tripling from $1.9 million in 2011-12 to $4.9 million this financial year.

13 comments

  • As a victim of bullying and other toxic behaviour in the CSIRO, it is good to see these things being aired publicly where they cannot be swept under the carpet. I have been fighting for justice for over 5 years. The behaviour I experienced whilst an employee and complete lack of any interest by senior management in addressing the toxic culture has had a lasting impact upon my life. My employment potential is limited, I will be required to undertake psychotherapy and take medication for the rest of my life, and I am one of the lucky ones.

    There are many more like me, some who will never work again as a result of the psychological injuries they sustained whilst employed by the CSIRO.

    Commenter
    Concerned Ex-Employee
    Location
    Brisbane
    Date and time
    December 04, 2012, 9:25AM
    • I went for a position at CSIRO a few months back and could sense bad culture just in 45 minutes. Glad I didn't get the job. I value myself too much. Bully managers need to go full-stop.

      Commenter
      ads
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      December 04, 2012, 9:49AM
      • I once had visited one of their workplaces. There was a PA system blaring worse than at airports. It was obvious that was no place for serious creativity.

        Commenter
        naysayer
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        December 04, 2012, 2:02PM
    • The more that CSIRO becomes a seamless matrix of government press releases, the more the bullying will escalate.

      Commenter
      Stephen
      Date and time
      December 04, 2012, 12:55PM
      • Scientists, high level managers and bean counters are often people who live in a closeted world and are single minded and consumed by whatever area they are interested in, often to the point where they are emotionally and socially remote from other people. These people are good at what they do, but often make poor managers as they are just not interested in things they perceive as petty and insignificant. They are often just as disconnected from family life for the same reasons. CSIRO needs "people" people managing and scientists doing scientific work.

        Commenter
        Been Bullied
        Date and time
        December 04, 2012, 1:17PM
        • Now for PM&C, ACT Government, DMO...

          Commenter
          Anon
          Date and time
          December 04, 2012, 1:32PM
          • As long as our political elite bully, abuse, heckle, attack, insult and denigrate each other in public at every opportunity - then you can forget about this issue ever being resolved.

            Commenter
            El Rey
            Location
            Elwood
            Date and time
            December 04, 2012, 1:41PM
            • They certainly set a sterling example for the rest of the nation to follow!

              Commenter
              Concerned Ex-Employee
              Date and time
              December 04, 2012, 3:50PM
          • How does one find out more about the class action through Maurice Blackburn? My father was employed by CSIRO in the 80's and early 90's and was subject to horrific bullying, racial villification, psychosocial and physical abuse. I would be keen to see that justice is done to the perpetrators of such disgusting behavior.

            Commenter
            toxic CSIRO
            Date and time
            December 04, 2012, 4:17PM
            • Why did it take Comcare so long to do anything ? Maybe it was only the involvement of Maurice Blackburn that provided the incentive to Comcare to take some action.

              Commenter
              LouLou
              Date and time
              December 04, 2012, 4:43PM

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