New figures have revealed that staff from the South Australian Department of Education have lodged the most workplace bullying and sexual harassment claims in the state public service over the past five years.
The data, which was obtained by SA-BEST and reported by The Advertiser, revealed that 243 bullying and harassment claims worth more than $12.5 million in payouts came from the Education department alone. In addition, there were 10 sexual harassment complaints made within Education, leading to a total of $374,781 in compensation.
SA-BEST MLC Frank Pangallo received the figures from SA public sector employment commissioner Erma Ranieri last week.
They have revealed that there were 817 workplace harassment and bullying claims made across 27 state government entities between 2015 and 2020. Public sector employees received $37.6 million in payouts for the claims.
There were also 24 reports of sexual harassment, resulting in a total of $701,079 in compensation.
SA Health recorded the second highest number of harassment and bullying complaints (227), and sexual harassment incidents (seven). SA Police came in third, with 72 harassment and bullying complaints, and two sexual harassment complaints.
Last week Pangallo told state parliament that the figures were ‘disturbing’, and described harassment as an ‘endemic problem in the public service’.
In response to questions from Pangallo, SA treasurer Rob Lucas said that while bullying and harassment ‘occurs in every workplace type throughout not only the state but throughout the nation’, he and Ranieri were working to address it.
“In terms of what is being done, the commissioner for public sector employment, together with the chief executives, is leading the attempt to provide comprehensive support both to chief executives and senior managers in terms of how you manage disputes within the workplace, how you try to prevent bullying and harassment and provide training and education in terms of the responsibilities,” Lucas told parliament.
“That is an ongoing challenge for not only for the commissioner, but also chief executives, in terms of managing differences of opinion and disputes within worksites, which some will claim will be bullying and harassment. Ultimately, in some cases it might be proved to be bullying and harassment.
“In other cases it will be shown to be performance management perhaps of unsatisfactory performance by a particular officer within the department, which they may well construe as bullying and harassment, whereas an independent assessment will find occasionally it is actually managing poor performance in the workplace.”