On the 21st of March this year, the Senate referred the proposed workplace bullying laws to the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Committee for inquiry and report by 14 May 2013.
After consideration of submissions from 54 individuals and organisations, the Committee handed down its report and recommendation.
What did the submissions to the Committee say?
The Committee noted that all submitters and witnesses to the inquiry were unanimous in opposition to bullying in the workplace. Any disagreement between the parties centred on the best way to protect workers from bullying and the appropriate means of redress for victims.
The Committee noted the employer groups’ submission that the proposed expansion of the Fair Work Commission’s jurisdiction could interfere with internal workplace investigations and remedies, and the Commission may not be equipped to promptly and adequately deal with complaints. Some employer groups opposed the handling of workplace bullying complaints by the Fair Work Commission on the basis that bullying should be dealt with as a work health and safety issue, and managed in that jurisdiction.
The Committee rejected the employer groups’ concerns and noted that the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) is working with the Fair Work Commission to provide advice about how the proposed workplace bullying provisions will work in practice.
Was the Committee unanimous?
Two Coalition Senators wrote a dissenting report which included a recommendation that the definition of bullying be extended to include bullying by union officials towards both workers and employers.
What did the Committee recommend?
The Committee recommended the proposed legislation be passed by parliament.
In its Report, the Committee made the following points.
- All workplaces should be free from bullying
- Where bullying complaints arise, it is imperative that prompt attention is given to resolve complaints
- The proposed laws do not prevent employers from resolving bullying complaints internally
- The proposed laws act as a safety net for employees when prompt and appropriate action is not taken by the employer
The Committee foreshadowed that further amendments could be made to the proposed legislation as it moves through the legislative process and noted that the Minister for Workplace Relations intends to introduce further amendments to the Fair Work Act in parliament’s winter sittings.
Implications for employers
The Committee’s report demonstrates that employers will not have the luxury of picking and choosing whether to investigate a report of workplace bullying.
The Committee’s report makes it clear that :
- an employer will be expected to respond promptly to a report of workplace bullying
- a prompt response will be an employer’s opportunity to resolve a complaint internally and avoid the prospect of external intervention by the Fair Work Commission
- an employer who fails to investigate a report of workplace bullying risks the matter being taken from its hands and subjected to the scrutiny of the Fair Work Commission.
What happens next?
Although the Senate Committee has finished its review of the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2013 (containing the bullying provisions), a separate review of the Bill by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment is yet to be completed.
Submissions to the Lower House Committee were due by Thursday 18 April 2013 and a public hearing by the Committee is scheduled in Melbourne for 24 May 2013 .
We will publish details about the progress of the Lower House Committee’s inquiry when that information comes to hand.