BUL­LY­ING SCAN­DAL UN­COV­ERED

Coffs Har­bour child pro­tec­tion agency placed on no­tice

The Coffs Coast Advocate - - FRONT PAGE - LINDA SILMALIS

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”.

Photo: Trevor Veale

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