Bunbury Port workers harassed

Kate FieldingSouth Western Times
Ports issued with improvement notices following a three-year probe into allegations of bullying and harassment.
Camera IconPorts issued with improvement notices following a three-year probe into allegations of bullying and harassment. Credit: Graphic / South Western Times

Southern Ports workers in Bunbury are being exposed to name-calling, racial slurs and sexually derogatory comments, according to a WorkSafe investigation.

Following a three-year probe into allegations of bullying and harassment, Southern Ports’ facilities in Bunbury, Albany and Esperance have each been issued with two separate improvement notices.

The investigation found employees “may be exposed to acute and cumulative psychological hazards in the work environment”.

Those hazards were put down to “autocratic leadership styles from the executive leaders and managers, poor support from managers and supervisory staff and inappropriate and unreasonable behaviours such as harsh and unreasonable performance management, yelling, name-calling, racial comments, derogatory comments of a sexual nature, gossiping and creating rumours”.

Interim chief executive Alan Byers has responded, saying Southern Ports recognised there were issues to “urgently” address, but the inappropriate and unreasonable behaviours outlined did not reflect every employee.

The investigation found that the port had provided information and training to managers and supervising staff, including expected standards of behaviour and mental health awareness training.

However, that training “may not have been adequate”.

“Individual results were not disclosed to the employer, inhibiting the...ability to identify and control the risk of harm to health (of) employees,” WorkSafe said.

It said most managers received training and information on addressing bullying behaviours and inappropriate workplace conduct such as sexual harassment and racism.

“However, instances where managers failed to address these inappropriate behaviours in a timely manner and in some instances exhibited the inappropriate behaviours themselves, indicates that this training may not be adequate.”

The report noted a perceived lack of support from management, sustained high work pressure, conflict and “harsh or unreasonable” performance management exposed workers to hazards.

Mr Byers told the Times that processes were already in place to deal with the allegations.

“Southern Ports has a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination, bullying and harassment, including on the basis of gender or race,” Mr Byers said.

“All allegations raised with Southern Ports in relation to derogatory comments or harassment of a racial or sexual nature have been investigated and dealt with.

“I hope any staff member who has experienced inappropriate behaviour feels comfortable coming forward.”

“Southern Ports has a fair and just safety culture, resulting in increased reporting of workplace illness and injury yet a decrease in serious incidents.

This has resulted in a safer workplace.

“It is absolutely appropriate that this culture is extended to reporting of discrimination, bullying and harassment and we have the processes in place to deal with these matters.”

Southern Ports has until December 17 to identify and implement controls and provide information and training in response to the notices.

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