The CSIRO has been accused of misleading a Senate Estimates Committee over its handling of a bullying claim by a scientist, according to a letter former CSIRO scientists obtained under freedom of information.
In the letter, Comcare deputy chief executive Steve Kibble demanded the agency correct the Hansard record from May 28, 2012 for failing to highlight its occupational, health and safety breaches in relation to its handling of a bullying claim lodged by former CSIRO scientist Dr Sylwester Chyb. “(The) content quoted by CSIRO was not presented in context and failed to highlight to the Committee that (Comcare investigator Nigel) Docker’s draft report also contains preliminary findings that the CSIRO breached its occupational health and safety duties with respect to its handling of some of the allegations of bullying made by and against Dr Chyb,” the letter said. Comcare criticised CSIRO deputy chief executive Craig Roy for misleading a Senate hearing when he gave evidence a draft report into bullying claims found no evidence of “systemic deficiencies or a culture that embedded bullying at the CSIRO”.
Chyb, a leading entomologist who travelled from Britain for the job, alleged he was harassed, bullied and unlawfully terminated by the CSIRO (OHN 929). Former CSIRO scientist Andrew Hooley, who was made involuntarily redundant last year after nine years at the organisation, told OHN he had formed a group of 10 former CSIRO scientists who obtained the letter and had placed pressure on Comcare to formally investigate CSIRO’s workplace practices and management culture. He said they had submitted 54 cases of alleged bullying of current and former staff to the parliamentary inquiry into workplace bullying. “We would receive one to two complaints a week from former and current staff,” he told OHN. He claimed bullying and harassment of staff was “rampant” at the CSIRO, generally stemming from “high-level public servants in positions for a long time with no accountability for their actions”. Hooley told OHN he was subjected to public humiliation after raising concerns about potential procurement fraud in 2007.
Hooley, a former CSIRO health and safety rep, said some employees were on suicide watch as a result of being bullied. He established a website for victims of CSIRO bullying and estimated up to 100 cases had emerged involving bullying of current and former staff. “A lot of the difficulties people have encountered started off as a result of questioning the legitimacy of processes,” he said. Hooley said staff who reported illegal activity under the organisation’s whistleblower provisions were not protected and many were made redundant. The submission called for tighter national laws, an independent body to investigate workplace bullying claims and stringent whistleblower protections. Hooley said they were seeking a separation of Comcare’s prosecution and insurance arms. A Comcare spokesperson told OHN the regulator had “raised concerns about information supplied by the CSIRO to the Senate Estimates Committee” and that it was discussing the matter with the CSIRO. The CSIRO did not respond before press time.
Source: Occupational Health News, 25 July 2012.