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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2011 Week 14 Hansard (Wednesday, 7 December 2011) . . Page.. 5760 ..

harassment make up almost 40 per cent of accepted mental stress claims in the ACT public sector. This is a figure well above the national average. In the ACT public sector there are consistently 100 or more successful claims per 100,000 workers.

Workplace bullying is not confined to the public sector or any one area of employment. UnionsACT has told the ACT Greens that workplace bullying is the most regular complaint it receives. The complaints come from all sectors of the workforce, from all ages and all genders. UnionsACT receives at least one complaint about bullying every week, and often three or four a week.

The impacts of workplace bullying are significant. Bullied workers can suffer psychological, physiological and social trauma. Psychologists identify a clear correlation between workplace bullying and poor health, with victims suffering from problems such as depression, anxiety, fear, panic attacks, low self-esteem and eating disorders.

These health problems persist even after the bullying has ceased, and many targets of workplace bullying even experience post-traumatic stress disorder. According to Stale Einarsen, an international expert in work psychology, 75 per cent of bullying victims experience symptoms that are the same as for victims of traditional trauma, and 65 per cent still have symptoms five years later. These health impacts also extend to co-workers. Australian research shows that witnessing workplace bullying can have a negative impact on worker health. The clinical evidence is clear about the health impacts of bullying.

I have received a number of representations from people in the ACT who have been victims of bullying, and many Canberrans are suffering serious health problems caused by bullying and harassment in ACT workplaces. Workplace bullying also has serious economic costs, such as lost work hours, decreased productivity and staff turnover.

The Productivity Commission found that the total cost to the Australian economy of bullying and harassment was about $14.8 billion a year. This did not include the hidden costs, such as hiring and training employees to replace people who have left as a result of workplace stress.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has estimated that the annual financial cost of workplace bullying could be as high as $36 billion annually, when hidden and low opportunity costs are considered. The Victorian WorkSafe Authority has estimated that bullying costs businesses more than $57 million a year in Victoria alone. Clearly, the human and economic costs of workplace bullying are significant. Whether from a health perspective, an economic productivity perspective or a human rights perspective, there is an imperative to take action on the issue.

I will outline some of the benefits that will result from the introduction of specialised bullying inspectors to WorkSafe ACT’s inspectorate. This requirement recognises that bullying and other psychosocial hazards are unique and that detecting, managing and regulating these hazards requires specialised attention. Inspectors that have specific expertise and experience in this area are appropriate, especially given the complex social and psychological issues often involved in bullying claims.

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