CSIRO Chief Executive, Dr. Megan Clark, holds a media conference regarding bullying in the workplace. Photo: Graham Tidy
Investigators want to pursue nearly 50 allegations of bullying and harassment at Commonwealth science agency CSIRO.
But an independent inquiry led by a former Commonwealth ombudsman has found no evidence of widespread systematic bullying or a toxic workplace culture at the agency.
The investigation, led by Professor Dennis Pearce, received 130 submissions detailing 113 separate allegations of bullying or "unreasonable behaviour" at CSIRO work sites going back to 1983.
The agency's main union said the report was a "wake-up call" for CSIRO, while a lawyer for complainants described CSIRO's reaction to the investigation as "bizarre".
In his report, Professor Pearce made 34 recommendations including better training for managers in dealing with mental health problems among their workers and the establishment of an internal integrity unit.
The inquiry was commissioned after federal workplace insurer Comcare issued an improvement notice for one of CSIRO's Canberra sites in the wake of a bullying investigation.
There was also pressure from opposition industry spokeswoman Sophie Mirabella and an online campaign by disgruntled former CSIRO workers who claimed they were bullied or frozen out of the organisation.
Professor Pearce found shortcomings in CSIRO's procedures for reacting to bullying accusations and its application of those procedures.
"We have seen not many, but enough, cases in which common sense and empathy are lacking," he wrote.
Professor Pearce will now enter a second phase of his inquiries, looking in detail at 22 allegations, and he recommended that CSIRO allow him to investigate another 27.
Despite the further investigations, CSIRO chief executive Megan Clark welcomed the finding that there was no toxic workplace culture in CSIRO.
"The investigation found no widespread or major issues in relation to unreasonable behaviour or bullying in CSIRO," Dr Clark said.
She acknowledged the report had raised serious issues but said that several of the recommendations had already been implemented and more would soon follow. "We think the majority of them can be done very quickly; some of them will take time."
The second-phase investigations would be carried out "promptly" and fairly, Dr Clark pledged. She dismissed criticism of the investigation process. " I think we have been very well served by Professor Pearce's team, his experience and integrity, [the report] oozes with balance and wisdom.''
But Giri Sivaraman, of Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, who has represented victims of the alleged bullying, said many former staff members did not make submissions to the inquiry, ''largely because they do not trust the senior management of CSIRO, who commissioned the report" .
"It seems bizarre that the inquiry says there are only 'pockets of concern' and yet 110 submissions were received and a series of recommendations are made to address the 'blame the victim culture' … prevalent in CSIRO."
CSIRO Staff Association secretary Sam Popovski said the organisation now had to act.
"The staff association has said consistently that the allegations and subsequent independent investigation into bullying and harassment should serve as a wake-up call to CSIRO management," Mr Popovski said.