Bill's Transcripts

5AA Mornings

5AA Mornings with Leon Byner
12 February 2012
TIME 11:33

SUBJECT: workplace bullying

LEON BYNER:  Bullied workers will be given the power to make complaints directly to the Fair Work Commission to get a faster, cheaper hearing under the next stage of the Gillard Government's industrial relations policies. Let's talk to Minister Bill Shorten. Bill, thanks for your time.

BILL SHORTEN:  Hey Leon, happy New Year.

LEON BYNER:  Same to you. Bill, one might have reasonably presumed that if you are a bullied person in the workplace you can go to the Fair Work Ombudsman, but that has not been the case?

BILL SHORTEN: Traditionally bullying has been dealt with by the state health and safety regulators and clearly that's a gap.

LEON BYNER: So what have you done?

BILL SHORTEN: So what we are going - what we flagged is that we want to change the Fair Work Act to allow the Fair Work Commission, the independent umpire of workplace relations - they deal with thousands of workplace issues, to allow people to go there and within 14 days they've got to have a hearing. Now, by a hearing that doesn't mean a full-on court because we don't want to have vexatious claims, but on the other hand the mechanisms which exist at the moment are slow, they're expensive and they're not timely and in the ideal world you'd remedy the behaviour complained of and you can help resume normal relationships.

LEON BYNER:  Yeah but the Fair Work Ombudsman officers, are they resourced adequately to handle this in a timely manner? Because I know even for under payment of wages, and we deal with a lot of those sorts of issues, we have an industrial advocate that works with us, Gary Collis, who used to be an ombudsman who gets things done very quickly in a matter of a couple of days, whereas you won't get that from the office of the Ombudsman.

BILL SHORTEN:  We fund the Ombudsman. Obviously I'm - with my background I'm interested to make sure that they've got the capacity to do the job. The demand is huge out there.


BILL SHORTEN: They get over a million telephone calls. If you ever get time visit their call centre, it's amazing what they get through. There's lots of investigators but the demand is huge. So when people say we can go and deregulate the labour market well, I'm afraid there's a lot of people - a lot of well-intentioned employers, they ring up just to find out what do we do. They get 300,000-plus calls from employers, what do we do, and then you've got 600,000-plus people saying I'm not sure but I think there's a problem.

LEON BYNER: Yeah, so as of when will a bullied person be able to go to the Fair Work office and get a hearing?

BILL SHORTEN: If we can get our amendments to the Fair Work Act through Parliament we'll present them in March and we want them dealt with by the time of the budget and the winter sittings. So ideally from 1 July.

LEON BYNER: Okay, so you're confident that if you are a bullied person and this gets through, and I don't see why it shouldn't, that somebody who is aggrieved will have to wait no more than two weeks to actually get - when you say a hearing are we talking here about some kind of mediation?

BILL SHORTEN: Yeah, we want them - if you write to the Fair Work Commission and you say, listen I think I've got a problem at work or your representative does, we want the Fair Work Commission to list the matters within 14 days. Now that doesn't mean it all gets resolved then, but prevention is more important than cure. There's always more than one point of view but I know that you don't solve problems without talking them through.

LEON BYNER: No and what about those people working in the public sector, in the public service? Can they also go to Fair Work or do they have to go somewhere else?

BILL SHORTEN: No, they can go to Fair Work.

LEON BYNER: Okay because I know that in the public sector, depending on which area you're talking about, bullying can also be an issue. 

BILL SHORTEN: It can, and separately I'm going to write to the Australian Public Service Commissioner just to reinforce this Government's commitment to making sure that bullying is dealt with in a timely manner.

LEON BYNER: Bill, good luck and thank you for your time.

BILL SHORTEN: Thank you.

- ENDS -


Mr Shorten’s Media Contact: Jessica Lindell 0408 642 804