Bullying complaint without a workplace

Arnold Balthazaar was so desperate to stop Centrelink public servants bullying him that he took his case to the workplace tribunal.

The trouble was, Mr Balthazaar didn't work at Centrelink and his attempt to get an order from Fair Work Australia to stop the bullying barely got out of the starting gate.

The new anti-bullying laws are broad, the Commission found in a judgment published on Wednesday, but not that broad.

Mr Balthazaar, from the mid north coast of NSW, told the Commission that Centrelink paid him to be the full-time carer for his disabled daughter.

The carer's pensioner tried to argue that his Centrelink payments made him, legally speaking, an employee, outworker or a volunteer.

After disputes with local welfare bureaucrats about his entitlement to welfare payments, Mr Balthazaar went to the tribunal in a case which, if successful, could have unleashed a flood of bullying actions across Australia from disgruntled Centrelink clients.


But lawyers for Centrelink stymied the case before the tribunal could even establish whether Mr Balthazaar was really being bullied by the agency's Gosford-based officials.

Their jurisdictional challenge, based on the fact that Mr Balthazaar did not work at Centrelink and thus could not have been the victim of workplace bullying, was successful and FWA vice-president Graeme Watson threw the case out.

Before the laws came into force on January 1, there was speculation that they could be used as weapons in a vast range of everyday situations, for example by retail or cafe workers against rude customers.

But Mr Watson's decision provides a precedent that the laws cannot be used against government officials by dissatisfied citizens.

''In my view, while obviously intended to cover a broad range of work arrangements, the provisions are not unlimited,'' Mr Watson wrote.

''They are clearly not intended to cover relationships such as students performing work for teachers, domestic work by family members or relationships outside the context of paid or unpaid work in the commonly understood sense.''