Why Cameron Dick’s workplace bullying reference group will fail bullied Queensland teachers - again


NOTE: This article is older than 12 months
Queensland Education and Industrial Relations Minister Cameron Dick has established a workplace bullying reference group “to ensure that Queensland’s framework for dealing with workplace bullying remains valid and effective.”

To understand why the deliberations of Mr Dick’s reference group will have little impact on the bulling in Queensland workplaces, you need to consider whose interests are being represented by the bodies who have been invited to join the reference group - the Queensland Council of Unions, employer representatives and legal and academic experts. Each of these bodies has a significant conflict of interest in dealing with workplace bullying - many of their members either are the workplace bullies, or are in the business of protecting the workplace bullies, or are funded by the workplace bullies. The bodies on the reference group will protect their own interests well, but there will be nobody on the reference group to really represent the interests of bullied workers.

The Honorary President of the Queensland Council of Unions, for example, is John Battams, General Secretary of the Queensland Teachers Union. The QTU is the largest registered industrial organisation in Queensland. It has 43,000 members - classroom teachers, principals and education department administrators, all together in the same union.

When a Queensland classroom teacher is bullied by their school principal, many other administrators may become involved in the situation - supporting and encouraging the bully principal, providing advice to the bully principal, etc. So QTU officers have to balance the need of the individual union member to be protected from workplace abuse against the need of their many bullying members to be protected from the consequences of their bullying, mobbing, incompetence, negligence, malice, defamation, falsification of the official records, etc, etc. And so a bullied classroom teacher may find that, instead of being actively defended from workplace abuse, they are instead advised that there is no hope of justice and that the best thing to do is to “accept the things you cannot change”, because Queensland teachers who “fight it” are mentally and physically destroyed. The union seems to have adopted a ‘learned helplessness’ approach to dealing with workplace bullying.

In June 2002 I met Ann Bligh in Cairns and I told her that bullied Queensland teachers were being advised to ‘accept the things you cannot change’ because there was no hope of justice. I was whistleblowing, although I did not realise it at that time. I just thought that I was telling the Minister of Education something that she really needed to know. I expected Anna Bligh to be shocked by my disclosure, and to react in the manner that Stephen Smith reacted when he was told about the abuse at the ADF Academy. I expected Anna Bligh to jump about, wave her ministerial arms in the air and tell her senior public servants that the situation was completely stupid, and that this would not do - that Queensland teachers must be protected from workplace abuse.

For a while, I believed that this was what had happened. I was given repeated reassurances that the bullying was under control and I retired in July 2002, a happy whistleblower, believing that I had done what I saw as my duty to other Queensland teachers.

Several hundred other Queensland teachers also retired in July 2002, taking the first of the teachers’ $50,000 ‘career change’ packages. I was told that many of these ‘career change’ teachers were escaping from workplace bullying situations.

A workplace bullying reference group was set up, and in 2004 Queensland implemented a code of practice to help Queensland employers prevent workplace bullying and harassment.

But little seemed to have actually changed in Queensland schools. In 2007 Deidre Duncan and Dan Riley of UNE surveyed 800 Australian teachers. They found that 99.6 per cent of the teachers claimed to have experienced bullying in the workplace. Queensland teachers were over-represented in the survey, suggesting that, five years after I had whistleblown to Anna Bligh, and even after many hundreds of teachers had taken workplace bullying escape packages, workplace bullying was still rife in Queensland schools.

You would think that these shocking research findings would ring alarm bells in the Queensland department of education. You would think that the results would prompt a lot of union agitation. But not in Queensland. And so, nine years after I first whistleblew about the workplace bullying in Queensland schools to Anna Bligh, another workplace bullying reference group has been set up with no body to represent the interests of bullied workers. And no submissions to the reference group have been requested from bullied workers.

Cameron Dick must ensure that the voices of bullied Queensland workers are heard by his reference group, and that their experiences are taken into consideration.

What do bullied Queensland teachers need? They need some independent research into the effectiveness of departmental workplace bullying polices. We need to understand why the departmental policies are failing bullied teachers. They need to be respected. They need to have equal rights with their students. And most of all they need the right to engage in professional discussion, without the fear of ‘payback’ allegations. I would suspect that the repression of professional discussion in Queensland schools is a significant factor in the failure of public education in Queensland. There is little point in employing well qualified teachers in Queensland schools if these teachers are going to be driven into ill health and out of work for trying to do their job to the best of their ability.

The department of education promotion system fails Queensland classroom teachers. Any teacher who is interested in becoming a school principal should be required to demonstrate a sound comprehension of departmental polices before they are considered for ‘acting’ or promotion positions. School principals need to demonstrate that they are literate enough to read the workplace bullying policy documents produced by the reference groups, and they need to demonstrate that they are intelligent enough to apply the workplace bullying policies to their own behaviour. The failure to maintain this professional standard in Queensland schools is negligence. When school principals do not read, or cannot properly comprehend, departmental policies, classroom teachers are exposed to workplace abuse.

The education department investigation process also exposes Queensland teachers to the risk of workplace abuse. It is much too easy for a school principal to make ‘payback’ allegations against a classroom teacher. And it is much too easy, if a teacher disproves these allegations, for the principal to change the allegations.

It is much too easy for a principal to make falsified records of meetings, to ‘record’ imaginary meetings, to ‘lose’ all or part of records supportive of a teacher, to refuse to hear or to record evidence supportive of a teacher, etc, etc. It is much too easy for a principal to place these falsified documents secretly on a teacher’s departmental records.

School principals should be required to provide teachers with a written copy of any allegations. The person making these allegations should make the statement in their own words. The allegations should concern specific facts. The teacher should also be provided with a statement of their rights in this situation, and with a copy of the relevant departmental policy document. Teachers should be allowed the time and opportunity to check the facts, to gather evidence, and to respond to the allegations in writing. Teachers should be provided with independent legal advice. The teacher’s response to the allegations should be properly considered by an officer with no conflict of interest in the situation.

The Crime and Misconduct Commission ‘devolution process’ also fails Queensland teachers. When a teacher first makes a disclosure to the CMC, the teacher may not realise the full extent of the corruption. The CMC have a policy of handing over about 98 per cent of disclosures to the department of education for investigation. And the department of education seem to have a policy of  allowing principals and senior public servants to investigate themselves, and to find themselves innocent of any allegations. These senior departmental officers then declare the case ‘closed’ and instruct that any further letters from the teacher should be filed and disregarded.

If the teacher has made a Right to Information application, the RTI documents seem to be delayed till a few days after the teacher’s case has been declared ‘closed’. Then the  RTI documents are released, the full extent of the corruption is exposed and the teacher’s protests are filed and ignored.

‘Independent’ departmental investigations also seem to be controlled by the senior departmental officer whose behaviour is the subject of the complaint. This officer is able to limit the independent investigation, to limit the documents ‘considered’ by the investigator and to prevent the investigator from asking certain key questions.

Thousands of dollars of taxpayers money seem to be being wasted on education department ‘independent investigations’ which have been set up to fail.

During the nine years since I first made my disclosure to Anna Bligh, she has often returned to Cairns, but Mrs Bligh no longer takes the risk of sitting down and listening to the concerns of bullied classroom teachers. She stands behind a barbecue, laughing at us and handing us sausages. Its the ‘let them eat sausages’ approach to ministerial responsibility.

Bullied Queensland teachers need an education minister who will really listen to their disclosures and they need a union that will fight for their right to work free from the fear of workplace abuse.

Robina Cosser worked as a teacher and advisory teacher in England, New South Wales and Queensland. She now edits the Teachers Are Blowing Their Whistles website and is a vice-president of Whistleblowers Australia.

Whistleblowers Australia is working with the National Whistleblowers Centre in Washington to have 30 July recognised as International Whistleblowers Day.

Robina Cosser M.Ed. (SYD)
Editor : The Teachers Are Blowing Their Whistles!
Editor : Whistleblowing Women
Vice President and Schools Contact : Whistleblowers Australia.
Thank a whistleblower on July 30 - International Whistleblowers Day!


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