Work bullies rife, say public servants

14 Nov, 2012 03:00 AM
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JOB insecurity and budget cuts have been blamed for a rise in workplace aggression in the public sector.

A ''warts and all'' review of the NSW public sector found almost half of all public servants - 48 per cent - had witnessed bullying at work.

Almost a third - 29 per cent - said they had been bullied in the past 12 months, and 6 per cent had formally complained about bullying behaviour.

The Premier, Barry O'Farrell, welcomed the report, released by the new Public Service Commissioner, Graeme Head, on Tuesday. ''This is the first time any government has had a thorough look at the NSW public sector - warts and all,'' Mr O'Farrell said.

The report found a highly educated workforce in the public sector, but a culture of bullying that needed to be addressed.

Mr Head said the inaugural State of the NSW Public Sector Report was the most comprehensive and first independent review of NSW public sector performance.

More than 60,000, or 16 per cent, of NSW government employees responded to a survey which asked for their views on values of trust, service, accountability and integrity.

''It is likely that a proportion of what people perceive as bullying arises from the absence of good performance management practices and organisational culture,'' Mr Head said.

Vaughan Bowie, an adjunct fellow at the University of Western Sydney specialising in workplace bullying and aggression, said budget cuts would have contributed to workers taking out frustration on colleagues and family.

Mr Bowie, who recently addressed an international conference in Vancouver, Canada, on workplace violence, said an increase in bullying was a ''trickle down in the organisational structure to the workers''. While some workers could be singled out as bullies by nature, Mr Bowie said a recent upsurge was related to a toxic workplace culture.

''Bullying has been around as long as humankind, but we are finding now in this current time a confluence of factors which is leading to more pointed workplace bullying and abuse,'' he said.

''I think this upsurge in violence has more to do with the toxic nature of various workplaces under the economic rationalist model where we are expecting more and more with less and less resources. People can't kick the organisation and take it out on each other or their parents or partners.''

The Opposition Leader, John Robertson, said the report shows ''the O'Farrell government's 15,000 job cuts are undermining workforce productivity and compromising the delivery of public services to the community''.

''This is because every single teacher, nurse, police officer, firefighter and child protection worker employed by the NSW government is feeling the effects of the Premier's savage cuts,'' he said.

''It's no surprise that a lack of job security is resulting in reduced productivity. If you're a school teacher worried you won't have a job next year, of course it's harder to focus on the classroom.''

WorkCover NSW describes workplace bullying as ''repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety''.

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Can we believe a word they say ?