industrial relations

Coalition pushes for filtering-system to stem the number of bullying cases put before the Fair Work Commission

Melinda Oliver /

Victims of workplace bullying will have to take their complaints to an independent regulatory body, before putting it to the Fair Work Commission if the Coalition is elected on September 7.

Shadow minister for employment and workplace relations Eric Abetz told media yesterday that “It just seems to me a filter-process should be put in place”.

In the Liberal party “Improving the Fair Work Laws” document, it pledged to ensure that “workplace bullying is comprehensively addressed”.

The document said that the “Coalition will support Labor’s proposed changes to address workplace bullying but only if it is clear that a worker has first sought help and impartial advice from an independent regulatory agency, and further, the changes are expanded to include the conduct of union officials towards workers and employers.”

The changes referred to are the new workplace bullying legislation, under the Fair Work Act, which are due to take effect on January 1, 2014.

It allows the FWC to process workplace bullying cases, but does not enable the FWC to authorise financial penalties.

Abetz did not outline how the Coalition’s proposed filtering process would work, but told media it could be facilitated through state-based occupational health and safety systems.

In May this year, the Fair Work Commission was awarded $21.4 million by Labor in the budget to fund legal remedies for victims of workplace bullying.

At the time, workplace relations minister Bill Shorten said reports from the Productivity Commission showed workplace bullying could cost $36 billion in productivity every year.

“This massive cost has to be reduced for the good of individual workers, for the good of business owners and for the good of our national economy,” Shorten said.

A spokesperson for the FWC told SmartCompany this morning that it was not their policy to comment on Government proposals, as the FWC will act according to whatever decision is made.

The FWC spokesperson said there was no consultation process with the Government regarding a filtering process, but suggested it could involve the Fair Work Ombudsman.

When the new workplace bullying legislation was announced, an expert told SmartCompany the FWC could be swamped by marginal bullying claims.

University of Adelaide law professor Andrew Stewart helped draft the Fair Work Act and said the FWC could be forced to deal with thousands of complaints which aren’t true bullying cases.

“The potential problem I’ve heard from a lot of practitioners is that it becomes an outlet for anyone who is concerned about how they’re being performance managed,” he said.

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