By NOEL MURPHY
GEELONG City Hall cannot be trusted to investigate bullying allegations in its own workplace, according to the Australian Services Union.
The State Government should instead oversee a fully independent inquiry into the City’s institutionalised culture of workplace bullying, the ASU’s Billy King told the Independent.
“Serious bullying is rife, it’s true, it starts from the officers and goes right through the organisation,” he said.
“The impact is massive. In some instances I’ve seen it break up families.
“It impacts on spouses, on children, victims feel worthless when they can’t provide for their families, they can’t sleep, some can’t even eat.”
Mr King’s call for a state investigation follows reports this week of widespread bullying at City Hall and claims council would launch an independent probe.
Mr King said City staff who fell from favour with their superiors were regularly targeted, isolated and victimised.
“Officers are cracking down on any people who dare to voice an opinion that’s contrary to theirs. There are plenty of ASU members who have had to seek psychological help.
“The bullying is stressful and it really gets to some people, even reducing grown men to tears.”
Mr King said procedures open to staff to redress bullying or harassment complaints were so “drawn out and protracted” they added to the duress facing victims.
“The attitude of staff officers is one of denial. They do everything in their power to draw the matter out to stall it and put people under more pressure.
“They don’t want to deal with issues and rectify them, they just want to deny, deny, deny, so there’s no problems.”
Mr King said council officers had “unlimited resources” and “ratepayers’ money” to defend themselves against claims despite a welter of City Hall policies ostensibly to assist victims of bullying or unfair treatment.
Victims often had to draw on their own limited resources, which added further pressure on them, Mr King said.
“It can be a real David versus Goliath situation – and we’re only dealing with our members. I’m absolutely sure there’s plenty more.”
A spokesperson said City Hall was surprised Mr King had “not voiced his concerns to us directly” but it would be “pleased to have discussions with him”.
MEANWHILE, ASU branch secretary Richard Duffy has said a decision by the City to hire security guards at town hall and its Belmont depot further highlights the widespread problem of bullying at the council.
A State Government decision to initiate an investigation into allegations of bullying at the City of Greater Geelong was long overdue, he said.
“We are not sure why council has suddenly decided to hire security guards in the mentioned areas, but members are already feeling uncomfortable about it and this will only add to the already fractured relationship between council and its employees,” Mr Duffy told the Independent.
“Instead of trying to help rectify a situation by appropriately investigating the growing number of bullying claims, council have decided to employ hired thugs in what looks like another attempt at intimidation.”
“Bullying is a very serious matter that can lead to tragic outcomes. A number of bullying cases at the City of Greater Geelong that were brought to the attention of council have ended in outcomes favourable to management, despite obvious indiscretions within the organisation.
“An independent investigator is required to help investigate bullying at the City of Greater Geelong. Instead of co-operating and acknowledging the issue within the organisation, council have chosen cheap tactics in an attempt to spook workers into not speaking out through means of intimidation.”