Tragic effects of workplace bullying

THE tragic case of a brother and sister who committed suicide after the brother was systematically bullied and sexually abused in his first full-time job was just one of about 200 submissions sent to an inquiry into workplace bullying.

The parliamentary inquiry held a hearing on Friday, which included "impact statements" from 18 victims and family members of workplace bullying.

The actual content of the victims' statements cannot be reported for legal reasons.

But the committee recently started publicly releasing edited versions of submissions from victims.

One submission was sent in by the parents of a teenage boy who left high school at age 16 to start work as an apprentice chef at a local hospital.

It detailed an ingrained culture of workplace bullying in the hospital kitchen, including put-downs, jokes at his expense, sexual innuendo, tampering with his belongings, and later, sexual abuse.

After more than two years of putting up with the constant bullying by his immediate supervisor, and co-workers ignoring the harassment, his parents found out he had started using marijuana.

"After almost two years the other apprentice spoke up about what had been going on, she admitted that "what happened to (him) was 10 times worse than what happened to here"," the submission reads.

"(He) had begun to feel that he was to blame for what had happened. His self esteem was low; he said that he must be weak to not be able to put up with it like all the others had."

The submission said the culture of bullying at the kitchen was so ingrained the attitude of many long-serving staff was that "it had happened to them so put up with it".

"Most staff turned a blind eye or laughed along with the taunting," the submission reads.

"There was a climate of fear and intimidation in the kitchen to remain silent about the bullying."

The submission then detailed how months after the bullying was officially reported, it continued, eventually causing the young man to be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety.

The two years of bullying must have felt like an eternity to the young man, who confided in his youngest sister "the extent of the bullying and sexual abuse he had suffered".

"When Worksafe finally did an investigation our youngest daughter believed that the abuse would be reported in the local paper," the submission reads.

"She was fearful of (his) reaction due to the extent of the abuse he suffered.

"(She) took her life the week after Worksafe had rang and told us they had finished their investigation and would let us know within the next few weeks if they had enough evidence to take it to court.

"(He) blamed himself for his sister's death and he too ended his life just one month later."

About the inquiry:

  • The impacts of workplace bullying in Australia could be as high as $36 billion every year
  • The committee in investigating what can be done to prevent workplace bullying
  • Submissions are still open to the public, with the committee to report its findings to parliament in due course

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