The NSW ALP Senator, George Campbell posed a large number of questions to ABC management at a senate hearing. See what CEO Russell Balding has to say on the claims of bullying at the ABC here:

It’s out, the dirtiest secret in Our ABC. Workplace bullying and harassment of a level that does no one in the senior management team at the national broadcaster any credit.

There were letters in The Australian’s Media section in August 2004 that mentioned the problem and they brought this mention in the Community and Public Sector Union newsletter and on its website.

Entitled The ABC of Bullying it was a powerful critique of staff relations at the broadcaster. Here’s a key quote from the union website:

These are stories about an organisation out of control. Management are misusing the misconduct and performance management systems as tools for bullying. That is why management excluded complaints over misconduct or performance management issues under their bullying policy. It should come as no surprise that few people have lodged bullying grievances under their new policy. The management policy was designed to protect managers- not to prevent bullying.

There have been particularly disturbing reports about the way three ABC employees, all female, have been treated in Victoria. There are also worrying reports that some of the bullying and intimidation is centred in the News and Current Affairs division, people who should know better and people who report on similar instances in the wider work force.

Apart from the letters to The Australian and the union mention, not much else has been written. The usually hard-hitting critics of the ABC in some media outlets seem to have ignored this story completely.

But now ABC employees should know that this grubby secret has been raised in a Senate Estimates hearing in Canberra on Monday, St Valentine’s Day.

The NSW ALP Senator, George Campbell posed a large number of questions to ABC management attending the hearing, led by CEO Russell Balding.

It is clear Balding his managers came unprepared for the questions as many of the Senator’s questions were taken on notice with a promise to get back with the information.

The lack of knowledge shown by Mr Balding and his managers in this area is a worry. The transcript of the hearing can be found here. There is a lot more information about other areas of the ABC, including some silly point scoring by a government Senator.

But in the interest of helping all our ABC subscribers, here’s the transcript from the hearing that relates to the bullying and harrassment claims:

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—(part of the preamble deleted as it relates to a previous point) Mr Balding, page 36 of your annual report for 2003-04 states: The Corporation’s annual workers compensation premium increased by 63% to $1.98 million in 2003-04, reflecting both general rises in the cost of claims across Commonwealth agencies and the increased incidence of claims, especially relating to psychological injuries. However, Comcare provided the ABC with a rebate of $204 000 in recognition of the Corporation’s effective case management that reduced the expected costs of claims. Have you the figures of the costs of your workers compensation claims for the previous five years?

Mr Balding—We would be able to take that on notice and provide that to you.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—There was a 63 per cent increase—I presume that was from 2002-03 to 2003-04. That is a very significant increase—over $1 million—over that single period.

Mr Balding—I do not think we’re alone there.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—I am trying to find out what the pattern was and whether that related to the jump because of the public liability issue generally or whether there were other factors. Was the $204,000 rebate on top of the $1.98 million, or was it off the $1.98 million?

Mr Balding—Could you repeat what page you were quoting from the annual report?

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—Page 36.

Mr Pendleton—I will have to check, but I would have thought that the $204,000 was off the $1.98 million. But I can confirm that for you.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—Can you take that on notice and confirm that.

Mr Balding—Yes.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—Were you provided with a report from Comcare addressing the increase in workers compensation claims at the ABC?

Mr Pendleton—There are a number of reasons. As Mr Balding pointed out, it is not just the ABC that is experiencing this level of increase in its—

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—No, but I am interested in the ABC.

Mr Pendleton—That is right. What we have seen over the last year to two years is a change in profile of the type of claim that is being incurred, and in particular the psychological injury claims that the ABC is experiencing, as is the APS and workplaces generally. It is to do with the cost of rehabilitating those staff back into the work force. That is taking, on average, probably two to three times the time, and cost, that previous workplace injuries had been incurring. With overuse syndrome and physical workplace injuries it has been significantly cheaper and quicker to get staff back to work. Psychological injuries are demonstrating a much longer time taken to rehabilitate staff.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—What has been the growth in psychological injuries claims at the ABC?

Mr Pendleton—I would have to take that on notice.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—Do you have a rough idea, given the growth in the premium and the assessment that it is associated with psychological injuries?

Mr Pendleton—I would not like to guess. I would prefer to check that.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—Does the report identify the nature of the psychological injuries, or are we talking here about stress generally?

Mr Pendleton—I think stress is a significant element of it. From my recollection of the analysis that has been done, it is not necessarily the volume of claims that have been made that has increased, rather the duration of those claims and the cost increase as a result of that. But I can take that on notice and provide further detail.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—Do you know why they are taking longer?

Mr Pendleton—It is the nature of the injury. It is not that psychological claims are taking longer to resolve; it is that psychological injury in itself takes longer before staff can return to the workplace. It is a much more costly process.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—Do you have a comparison of the growth in the psychological injury claims at the ABC with the growth of these claims in the Commonwealth generally?

Mr Pendleton—I think we would, yes.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—Are they greater or lesser than the claims across the Commonwealth generally?

Mr Pendleton—I do not think that we are unique within the Commonwealth.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—But are they greater or lesser as a percentage of your claims?

Mr Pendleton—I am not sure. I would have to take that on notice.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—Can you take that on notice and let us know. Are there any particular areas, Mr Pendleton, in the ABC that have been identified where psychological injury claims are higher than elsewhere?

Mr Pendleton—Not to my knowledge. I think it is across the board.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—So it is generally across all departments?

Mr Pendleton—Yes.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—And all areas of employment?

Mr Pendleton—I believe so.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—So would it be as general across administration as across program making?

Mr Pendleton—I do not think psychological injury necessarily is higher in any particular area of the organisation.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—Would you have figures to demonstrate that?

Mr Pendleton—Yes.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—Could you take that on notice and provide us with those figures.

Mr Pendleton—Yes.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—Have you or the ABC taken any specific actions to try to identify these psychological injury type circumstances and to deal with the problem before it reaches a compensatable level?

Mr Pendleton—Yes. The ABC has a range of programs that it has initiated and is promulgating throughout the ABC on work-life balance, on the management of work pressures and stress. There are a range of support mechanisms that the ABC provides through its in-house counselling services that are made available to staff. There are a range of initiatives that the ABC has in order to, as best we can, mitigate any rise in psychological injury within the workplace.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—Does that go to the issue of dealing with bullying?

Mr Pendleton—The ABC has policies with respect to workplace bullying and grievance-handling procedures.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—Do you have policies in place?

Mr Pendleton—Yes.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—Have you undertaken training of your staff and managers in these policies?

Mr Pendleton—Yes. We are undertaking an extensive policy of information and training of all our management and staff within the ABC.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—How many claims have been raised under this policy?

Mr Pendleton—I would have to take that on notice.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—But you are aware that there have been some.

Mr Pendleton—Claims of bullying? Yes.

Mr Balding—In respect of the training on workplace bullying and harassment, I have made it mandatory that over a period of time—HR is rolling this out—all ABC employees attend those training sessions.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—Would you have any idea at this stage how many have been through those training sessions?

Mr Balding—They have only just begun to be rolled out.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—What do they consist of?

Mr Balding—I am yet to attend my session.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—So you are a potential candidate.

Mr Balding—I am a potential candidate; that is exactly right.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—Mr Pendleton, do you know what the sessions contain?

Mr Pendleton—The program has only recently been pulled together. I have yet to see it as well.

Mr Balding—It is the responsibility of our HR division to bring it together, to formulate it and to roll it out throughout the corporation.

Proceedings suspended from 10.59 a.m. to 11.14 a.m.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—Mr Pendleton, before the break I was asking you how many bullying claims had been raised under your policy and how many had been investigated.

Mr Pendleton—I am not sure how many have been raised, but all that have been raised have been or are being investigated.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—Can you take on notice what the exact figures are.

Mr Pendleton—Yes, Senator.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—You are saying that they have been raised. Does that relate also to claims from Western Australia?

Mr Pendleton—Which claims would they be, Senator?

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—I understand that claims were raised in Western Australia but the director of human resources was not prepared to accept the claims in the form they were presented.

Mr Pendleton—I am not aware of that, Senator. I would have to take that on notice.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—Can you check it out, because I understand that that in itself generated a bullying atmosphere in that staff members felt too vulnerable to come forward.

Mr Pendleton—So a formal complaint—

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—I understand that, as it finished up, there was a collective complaint put in by half of the employees, made by the union because individuals were feeling too intimidated to put the claims in themselves.

Mr Balding—And this was rejected by the director of human resources?

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—Yes, in Western Australia.

Mr Balding—Sorry, the HR manager in Western Australia?

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—The advice I have is the director of HR. I presume it probably was in Western Australia.

Mr Balding—Let me look into that, please.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—Can you check that one out.

Mr Balding—Yes.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—Are you aware of any disciplinary action that has been taken against any employees or managers of the ABC as a result of bullying claims?

Mr Balding—I am not aware of any. I cannot recall. There is nothing that comes to mind. There are a number of investigations into bullying that have taken place that may have resulted in some further training for staff or for management, but specifically I have no recollection.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—Is it true that there have been press reports of bullying in the Victorian newsroom and also in the Adelaide newsroom?

Mr Balding—Is it true there have been press reports? I am not aware of any press reports.

Mr Green—There have been some issues in relation to people’s performance that have got into the press, but whether we would accept them in the form that you are describing them is another question.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—Were they investigated?

Mr Green—Which particular—

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—These reports that got into the press—no matter what form you describe them.

Mr Green—They certainly have been.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—What is the result of those investigations?

Mr Green—I would have to get back to you on that.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—You are not aware of what the outcomes of the investigations were?

Mr Green—No, because they were done in the context of the news division, so I would have to get back to you.

Mr Balding—Senator, I have been advised that there has been no formal complaint lodged in respect of the reports that you are referring to.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—Which the Victorian—

Mr Balding—The Victorian newsroom, yes. But I am advised that there has been no formal complaint lodged. So, therefore, there has been no formal investigation of that issue.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—But the fact that it got into the media, wouldn’t that have been sufficient for you to have done some investigation into what was going on? Surely you do not wait for formal complaints if you know or hear of some set of circumstances—

Mr Balding—That is something that the news and current affairs divisional management would have taken up. But as far as a formal investigation, you would not be able to do that unless there was a formal complaint lodged.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—Do you accept, Mr Balding, that the improper use of performance appraisal processes can be regarded as a form of bullying?

Mr Balding—I accept there may be either some misunderstanding in respect of how you apply performance management, and that is why I am very keen to ensure that all our staff and management are trained in respect of performance management. That is why I have made it mandatory that all staff, including all managers, and the managing director, attend training and workshops in respect of workplace bullying and workplace harassment—to understand what is the true application of what bullying means in respect of the workplace and how you manage it as a manager, as a supervisor.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—Have there been circumstances where managers have been found to have improperly used the performance management processes against employees?

Mr Balding—I would need to take that on notice.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL—Can you also take on notice whether there have been any disciplinary or other types of action taken against any of those managers.

Mr Balding—Yes.