BULLYING SCANDAL UNCOVERED
Coffs Harbour child protection agency placed on notice
THE state’s child protection agency has been served three legal notices from the NSW Government work safety office for the relentless bullying of staff by former and present management over seven years.
Caseworkers were yelled and sworn at by their Coffs Harbour-based managers while being derided in front of other staff by being called names such as “idiots”, “fools” and “incompetent”.
Managers also forced staff on sick leave to return to work before they had recovered while giving jobs to workers that were beyond their capabilities “to set them up to fail”, a union has claimed.
The SafeWork NSW “improvement notices” were issued to the Family and Community Services (FACS) Coffs Harbour office following an investigation, with the department facing a fines of up to $250,000 should it fail to comply.
The notices come amid a recruitment crisis for the department, with internal documents revealing how management are resorting to calling back previously rejected job applicants and seeking staff from overseas.
SafeWork NSW is the state’s workplace health and safety regulator, which is charged with investigating incidents at work while enforcing work health and safety laws.
Official SafeWork NSW documents show FACS management exposed workers to “psychological injury” from “an existing culture/behaviour of bullying, harassment and intimidation of workers by managers (past and present) during the period May 2012 to present”.
Among the mandatory directions, FACS staff have been ordered to undergo training on departmental bullying policy.
In a letter to FACS secretary Michael Coutts-Trotter, Public Service Association (PSA) assistant general secretary Tony Wright accused the department of failing to protect the health and well-being of child protection staff.
“The PSA is appalled to learn that SafeWork identified problems extending back as far as 2012,” he said.
The unions said a recruitment crisis had forced the department to invite applicants who had initially applied for positions but were rejected to come back to try again, “basically lowering the bar on recruitment standards”.
As for the international recruitment drive, it claimed it was the first time FACS had looked abroad to fill child protection positions.
A former FACS employee said workers had complained about the office for several years, but nothing had been done.
“It’s not just bullying, there is no supervision and in recent times, no debriefs have been done when a child has died,” the former worker said.
“Caseworkers are also not listened to. There were two who were worried about a boy that had not been heard of for a while, yet management didn’t want to know about it.
“A woman who questioned a decision by the department was put on a performance agreement.”
A FACS spokesperson said the department was working with SafeWork NSW and would “consult further with the PSA about matters they raised”.