WorkCover NSW has finally apologised unconditionally to wronged employee Wayne Butler, 18 months after a court found the senior manager was persecuted and bullied by the organisation.
The timing of the apology comes less than 48 hours before WorkCover NSW is due to make a submission to address systemic bullying within its ranks as part of a parliamentary review.
The apology is now up on WorkCover’s intranet.
The NSW Industrial Relations Commission found in June 2013 that WorkCover’s conduct towards Mr Butler was ‘‘shabby and disgraceful’’ and had all ‘‘the characterisation of institutional bullying’’.
Mr Butler was falsely accused of having an improper relationship with a sex worker, misusing his position, failing to report or record gifts and failing to maintain information security. The Court found each accusation to be baseless, concluding that WorkCover had behaved in a ‘scurrilous’ and ‘malicious’ way towards him.
Mr Butler was reinstated and given back pay after the verdict was handed down.
The apology WorkCover issued yesterday was contained in a letter from recently appointed CEO of Safety Return to Work and Support Vivek Bhatia.
“This is an unconditional apology made without any qualifications or reservations,” Mr Bhatia said in the apology letter.
“I regret the way in which you were treated during the investigation and your dismissal and I acknowledge that you and your family did go through a difficult and distressing time. I would also like to extend my apology to your family as well.”
A NSW Parliamentary Committee inquiry into institutional bullying in WorkCover NSW issued an explosive 200-page report in June this year. The report contained more than 100 submissions from staff including accusations of intimidation, discrimination, aggression, isolation, yelling, ridicule and threats of retrenchment that staff said they had suffered while working for the agency.
The Committee also found that as well as manifestly failing to keep its own house in order, WorkCover NSW had not taken workplace bullying in other organisations seriously enough.
The current review of the inquiry is to find out if WorkCover NSW has tried to clean up its act and started to address at least some of the 13 committee’s recommendations. Greens MP David Shoebridge who sits on the committee welcomed the apology but noted that it was issued less than 48 hours before WorkCover NSW was due to front a public hearing as part of the review.
“Whilst, you can quibble about the lateness (of the apology) you can’t quibble about the terms. It does seem to be an acceptance from senior management,” Mr Shoebridge said.
But he noted that the organisation had yet to issue a public statement acknowledging that it had a serious bullying problem – the first recommendation the inquiry had made.
Committee chairman, Reverend Fred Nile, said: “While we do not expect our recommendations to be implemented overnight, we are keen to make sure appropriate steps are being taken to reduce the incidence of bullying in WorkCover and to better prevent bullying in all public sector agencies.”
The two most senior WorkCover managers retired a few months ago. CEO of the Return to Work and Support Division Julie Newman retired on August 1 and John Watson, general manager of the work health and Safety Division.
Submissions close on Friday October 17 and there is a public hearing in Sydney on Tuesday October 28.
The General Purpose Standing Committee will report on December 11.
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