One in four Australians has either experienced or witnessed workplace bullying, according to new polling from Essential Research, illustrating the widespread nature of an issue currently being investigated by a Parliamentary committee.

The House of Representatives’ education and employment committee is undertaking an inquiry into the issue, initiated by Bill Shorten. Some employer mouthpieces, such as Michael Stutchbury at the Australian Financial Review, have sought to downplay the issue and claim the primary workplace bullying problem is workers being bullied by unions.

The Essential data suggests women are more likely to directly experience workplace bullying than men — 15% of women reported suffering bullying compared to 10% of men. Across the board, 19% of men and women reported having witnessed bullying; the total of those who had witnessed or experienced bullying, or both, was 26%. Women were also more likely to report experiencing bullying from work colleagues.

While 65% of those who had witnessed or experienced bullying said it was managers or employers, 48% reported it was other work colleagues, with 50% of women reporting “other colleagues” compared to 45% for men. Younger people and part-time workers reported higher rates of bullying from clients or customers.

On another front, there’s been a slight shift in perceptions of IR laws; 26% of voters now think the laws favour workers compared to 24% in February, and there’s been a significant fall in the number of voters who think the laws favour employers, down from 25% to 20%. But the number who think the laws balance the interests of workers remains at 34%. The results reflect a partisan division, strong even by current standards. Only 16% of Liberal voters think laws favour employers; 43% think they favour workers. A quarter of Labor voters think they favour employers; 12% think they favour workers and 49% think the laws are balanced. A third of Greens voters think the laws favour employers over 14% who think they favour workers.

Some 35% of voters think more investment in skills and training would be the most effective way to increase workplace productivity; 21% think giving employers greater flexibility would do the job, 17% prefer giving workers more input into how businesses are managed, and only 10% think the answer lies in stopping government assistance so that unproductive business fail more easily.

There’s been an interesting shift in Essential’s regular question on the issues most important to voters in determining how they would vote. While economic management and health remain easily the most important, “Australian jobs and protection of local industries” has risen from 36% to 41% since the question was last asked in December, confirming its position as easily the third most important issue cited by voters. It also happens to be a key platform for whatever dreams Labor may have about mounting a comeback.

Support for the Gonski report recommendations remains strong, with 65% of voters supporting the report, down from 68% in February. And there’s strong support for additional funding to be directed at public schools. Some 28% of voters agree that all schools, whether public or private, should receive a similar increase in funding; 2% believe private schools should receive a larger increase, and 63% of voters think public schools should receive a larger increase in funding, including 51% of Liberal voters.

On voting intention, there’s no change in the primary vote numbers, which remain at 49%, 33% and 10%. But some small shifts and rounding have moved the 2PP outcome in Labor’s favour, back to 55-45%. It’s incremental stuff but no doubt welcome to Labor; two weeks ago the party was trailing 57-43%.

Peter Fray

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