Rank and file staff at troubled state government insurer the Victorian Managed Insurance Authority hold grave fears that an investigation into bullying and harassment at the organisation will be little more than a whitewash.
Current VMIA staff members have told Crikey that many long-suffering employees are yet to be contacted by survey company Insync, despite the probe — a direct response to Crikey‘s investigation in January — entering its final days.
Six staffers say they have yet to receive an approach to air their grievances and have accused the VMIA, responsible for the insurance of $100 billion in state government assets, of riding roughshod over those who have witnessed the firm’s pernicious culture first hand.
“Some staff are yet to be contacted for interview while those staff who have recently joined VMIA and unlikely to contribute to the inquiry are being interviewed for over an hour — that’s a joke; more spin is on the way,” the senior employee said, requesting anonymity for fear of retribution.
A letter from VMIA chairman Robert Ray to staff on February 15, obtained by Crikey, reveals the Insync probe was launched as a direct response to stories on the worsening cultural problem inside the organisation, which has been branded Victoria’s “workplace from hell”.
“The board is concerned about the nature of these allegations and the impact on the VMIA’s reputation,” Ray wrote, admitting the time constraints were “challenging”.
Insync is due to complete its assessment by the end of March, with a report to be submitted to a special VMIA board meeting in April. The probe is the second external investigation into the organisation’s climate in the last three years, and follows several damning satisfaction surveys, all of which have been suppressed by senior management.
The staff member, who is backed by numerous dissidents in the organisation, called on the executive team and Ray to immediately fall on their swords.
“Given their track record, we have no confidence in the ability of the board, the CEO or the executive group to conduct an open and honest inquiry and deliver an uncontrived report,” they said. “They should all go now.”
Crikey has obtained a list of 71 staff members who have fled or been forced out of the organisation in the last four years, from a floating headcount of about 140. Staff turnover was a massive 67% in the two years to 2009 with senior management standing accused of pursuing a “year zero” scorched earth policy in order to sideline critics.
In January, Crikey published two letters sent to finance minister Robert Clark, who oversees the VMIA, which laid bare the grievances of current and former employees, saying the organisation had “become a brutal place of work and is to be avoided”. It followed another letter sent to then minister Tim Holding in the lead-up to last year’s state election and two press releases posted by shadow minister Gordon Rich-Phillips in 2009 containing similar claims.
“This has been going on for five years — look at the staff engagement surveys which have never been seen. This is spin, spin and more spin and we’re sick of it,” the source said.
Inside the VMIA, Ray, a former ALP heavyweight appointed by his old employee Tim Holding to the board last year, is said to have repeated comments offered to Crikey in which he said bullying was a general problem across all organisations and the situation at VMIA was nothing out of the ordinary. An apparent allusion was drawn with the rough-and-tumble culture of federal politics.
“The comments from Mr Ray suggesting bullying and harassment happens in every organisation proves to us the board is not fair dinkum about the inquiry. This will just be another cover-up,” the source said.
Ray is also said to be concerned over the strong possibility the problems inside the organisation would end up in the mainstream media. Channel 7 is understood to have submitted Freedom of Information requests and The Age‘s investigation unit is also said to be prowling.
InSync Surveys told Crikey they were “not authorised” to comment, refusing to say where that lack of authorisation came from. Ray did not respond to an email and voice mail this morning.
A spokesperson for the VMIA, Vicky Malliaros, told Crikey the board was “assessing these allegations fully”: “When the current independent review is complete, the board will take any action if required.”
Robert Clark, strongly rumoured to be mulling CEO Steve Marshall and Ray’s future at the organisation, did not return calls.