CSIRO ordered to act on bullying
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.