March 08, 2007

A Nation of Bullies - Australia

When people talk of bullies, often the first image that comes to mind is of a school yard thug beating up some poor nerd and stealing his lunch money. However, new IR laws and Federal Government contempt for workers, has seen the incidents of Workplace bullying sky rocket.

What’s bullying? Well, the most common definition appears to be words to the effect of: In all its forms it’s basically an abuse of power, by someone who is stronger eg physically, mentally, socially, financially, towards someone who is less able to protect themselves. The target is unable to assertively block the bully’s abusive behaviours.

Workplaces have a natural hierarchical structure which has always been open to abuse, however in the past, workers rights have been protected to varying degrees. Under Howard’s royal rule, these rights have been dismantled, leaving employees more vulnerable to bullying.

Super bully buster, Evelyn Field lists the following as causes for workplace bullying:

- The fact that the bully believes that they can get away with it, and generally they can.

- The organisational system either promotes equality and a ‘fair go for all’, or it condones the abuse of power. It is scared to confront and resolve conflicts, it minimises the impact of bullying or it basically believes that bullying is effective, eg as a cheap form of redundancy.

- The target may be a quiet achiever, who may not have developed socially assertive skills to confront the bully and persist in reporting the incidents to the appropriate persons with power.

- The loud-mouthed, insecure, generally less competent bully, who has poor leadership skills, lacks any desire to inspire employees and believes in using a verbal horsewhip to get a job done. They may be doing what everyone else is doing to survive. They may be hiding something which they do not want exposed. They manage to suck up to the boss who sees him/her as a ‘good chap.’

University Of Wollongong’s Diana Kelly, has done extensive research and concluded:

Considerable evidence points to an increase in workplace bullying, in large part as a consequence of competitive pressures, the predominance of business values and concomitantly, the declining legitimacy ascribed to fairness and social justice. In Australia, there have been some institutional efforts to identify, penalise, and reduce the incidence of bullying through Occupational Health and Safety legislation in some states, but recent employment relations legislation (WorkChoices) will have the effect of countering such measures. In particular the new legislation has the capacity to enhance and extend labour market disadvantage.

If that’s not reason enough to make changes, perhaps this statistic will do the trick :

Using international research, The Beyond Bullying Association, estimates that between 400,000 and two million Australians will be harassed at work (in 2001), while 2.5 to 5 million will experience workplace harassment at some time during their career.Workplace bullying has serious economic effects on Australian organisations. A recent impact and cost assessment calculated that workplace bullying costs Australian employers between $6 - $36 billion dollars every year when hidden and lost opportunity costs are considered.

My work as a Clinical Counsellor brings me in contact with an interesting cross section of society. During the last 5 years, I’ve noticed an increase in the incidents of people negatively affected by workplace bullying. I have no doubt that this is a direct response to the Howard Government’s war on everyday working Australians via loss of Union power and new IR laws. Employers are being held less accountable, and employees are paying the price. Howard has always depicted himself as being for the ‘Aussie Battler’, and in fact the new term ‘Howard’s Battlers’ was born. Of course nothing could be further from the truth. ‘Howard’s Battlers’ are being sodomised whilst big business’s collective scrotums slap wildly against Howard’s chin

From: The Dead Roo


Anonymous said...

I think it is useful to explore why universities appear so unable to deal with bullying. Maybe a little postmodern deconstruction would help.

What do universities get out of allowing their staff to bully each other ?

In what ways is this behaviour serving the universities' interests?

What does society get out of funding public institutions that condone bullying?

Aphra Behn

Anonymous said...

I live in the U.S. where we do not identify the various kinds of workplace injustice as "bullying." But it is as common here as it is in the U.K. or Australia.
The worst bullying I have ever personally endured was as a university teaching assistant. I considered this part of my learning experience. You see, we Americans have been taught to suck it up in the work place. We consider expecting justice from the powerful as a naive idea. We also believe that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. I'm not condoning all this, just pointing it out.
I agree with Aphra Behn that we should look at the way bullying serves institutional ends at the expense of workers. Bullying is a system that keeps workers at each others' throats and prevents effective challenges to authoritarian systems.