March 05, 2012

Workplace bullying on the rise at UNSW

WORKPLACE bullying is rife and on the rise at the University of NSW, according to a staff survey.

The vast majority of 552 people responded to the National Tertiary Education Union survey had experienced or witnessed bullying behaviours, the union found. Those included 68 per cent who said they had been bullied, and 83 per cent who had witnessed such behaviour.

Three quarters reported ‘‘someone being treated differently from other colleagues’’, two thirds said they knew of ‘‘arbitrary decision making with negative impacts on someone’’ and also of ‘‘misuse of power against a subordinate’’, while just under half listed ‘‘repeated shouting, swearing or threatening behaviour towards a staff member in public or private’’.

Of most concern, said Sarah Gregson, branch president of the NTEU, was that 70 per cent of respondents said the behaviour had not stopped, which she attributed to a culture of fear.

‘You would hope that universities are full of people who have the freedom to speak out and what we mainly found through this process is people are afraid to speak out. They know that there are an enormous number of ways that they be surreptitiously got at and so they keep their head down and try to do the best they can. It worries me very much that 70 per cent of people say that bullying is still ongoing.’’

One respondent wrote, ‘‘Fear and anxiety drive the lack of reporting and often because of the way bullying behaviour occurs, there isn’t tangible evidence of the behaviour, so it’s risky for the victim.’’

‘A university spokeswoman said there had not been a rise in reported cases.

‘‘Less than 10 complaints of bullying are reported through our complaint handling processes in any given year.

There has been no increase in the number of complaints received over recent years.’’

The report said the union had handled 18 cases of bullying and several of misconduct and performance management containing elements of bullying over the last two years, including one where the university acknowledged the manager was at fault but the victim left. The union acted on that person’s behalf to negotiate a separation agreement, Dr Gregson said.

Two thirds of the complainants were women but there was no question in the survey asking whether the perpetrator was male or female.

Dr Gregson said responses suggested that some of the bullies were women, and she said previous studies had shown that women were as likely as men to be bullies if they were in a position of power.

The NTEU presented the report to the university management this week. It includes recommendations such as the appointment of an independent bullying officer and the inclusion of clauses in enterprise agreements that ‘‘ensure management accountability, through external regulation and enforceable standards’’

There would be no decision about the recommendations until management had time to fully absorb the report, but the university remained committed to providing an equitable workplace, the spokeswoman said.

‘‘Mutual respect and collegiality is identified as a guiding principle for UNSW and any incidences of bullying that are reported are taken very seriously and addressed.’’


1 comment:

anonymous said...

I am writing to express my genuine disbelief regarding series of decisions taken by the management of the University of New south Wales since September 2011. Prof. Welsh, my supervisor had created an adverse workplace environment by threatening me verbally via emails with my job. He constantly reminded me that he is my boss and he pays my salary therefore I should do as I was told. I have been disrespected with shouting, accusing, stonewalling and threatening as arsenal of thwarting ploys. He made sexually oblique remarks. He also nominated himself as supervisor to all the students I used to supervise. He never once contributed toward my research work, since he claimed he did not understand basic science. I created all the projects that were running in the lab. He had on numerous occasions made demeaning remarks. Since I felt harassed, disrespected, bullied and threatened of losing my job, consequently left with no option but to make a formal complaint. I submitted a formal bullying complaint to Prof. Michael Chapman (Head of School), against Prof. Welsh as advised by the HR consultant. I had 2 meetings with Prof. Michael Chapman in which he made it very clear he will not take any action against Prof. Welsh and I should avoid coming to work. Thereafter, Prof. Chapman sent me email saying my complaint was unsubstantiated and I should work from home till end of my contract. I replied to him that I couldn’t possibly finish my experiments from home and need access to laboratory. Prof. Chapman handed over the matter to Prof. William Ledger (Head of Discipline). Since filing a complaint against Prof. Welsh my work rights were taken away from me. This is not the first time one of Prof. Welsh’s staff’s has made bullying complaints to Prof. Chapman. I have been made aware that in past 2.5 years of my employment 3 staffs under Prof. Welsh, have resigned expressing their unhappiness with Prof. Welsh’s behaviour and the toxic environment he created. I met with Prof. Ledger with my union representative, he asked me to take a pay out for remaining days of my contract and sign deed of release. Which I refused to take. Also he asked me not come to work without letting him know in advance as if I was a criminal. By this stage, Prof. Welsh had already cancelled my laboratory access. I was given no reasonable explanation concerning my suspension from work. I had a very good performance review from Professor Welsh in March 2011, in which it is demonstrated that I am an asset to the University. No other criticism of my work has been raised at any stage. The irony of it is on one hand I have been denied access to the lab to finish my experiment for publication purposes. On the other hand Prof. Ledger was hypocritical saying there is no value in me publishing work in low impact factor journal. On the contrary he has few publications that are in below one impact factor journal. At Fair Work Australia, the HR manager, Mr. Craig Clarke falsely claimed that the laboratory has been closed. Which is not true since students are still using the lab. The worst part it more than half million was spent by UNSW and foundation money on equipments. I had purchased more than $200,000 worth chemicals and kit to finish the project. None of it can be used anymore as they are past the expiry date. It is such a waste of money when researchers are struggling to get funding. They should bring in stricter law against bullying and get rid of the perpetrator. But with the level of bureaucracy at UNSW and all the perpetrator's supporting each other probably it will happen again. I have put a case is in federal court, hopefully there will be some justice shown for ruining my scientific career.