A damning independent report has exposed a culture of bullying and harassment among Australia’s air traffic controllers.
Airservices Australia commissioned former Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick to examine its employee culture after Civil Air released a report prepared by former Federal Court Judge Anthony North last July.
North’s report detailed serious concerns that the organisation’s culture was so plagued by bullying and sexual harassment that it posed a possible threat to the safety of air travellers.
Broderick’s report, which was based on extensive consultation with Airservices staff over the past nine months, called for urgent attention and reform in regards to the level of bullying and sexual harassment reported.
“The review team also found distinct areas of the culture that require immediate action and reform. The levels of bullying, in particular, as well as sexual harassment, are unacceptable. They need to be addressed as a matter of urgency,” the report concluded.
“Similarly urgent action is required to address the very low levels of reporting, particularly in relation to sexual harassment. It is clear there are work environments where people do not feel safe to speak up or to call out non-inclusive behaviour.”
According to the report, such low levels of reporting “speak to a culture that is not psychologically safe”.
It also brought to light employee testimony describing Airservices as a “boys’ club”, a “male-dominated culture”, a “culture underpinned by fear… where bullying is normalised” and as beset by “overwhelming toxic masculinity”.
The report noted that “employees told the review team of their ‘cynicism’ about management decisions and their ‘distrust’ and ‘fear’ of managers, including those in senior roles” and in relation to air traffic controllers, that “only one in three air navigation services employees feel that their work role is valued by the organisation, a rate lower than other areas within Airservices.”
In response to the findings, the report outlines 19 detailed recommendations focusing on leadership, human-centred responses to bullying and harassment, promoting dignity and creating a psychologically safe place to work.
“Airservices will implement the report’s recommendations in full to ensure that we offer a safe, diverse and inclusive workplace for all of our employees”, CEO Jason Harfield said.
“The report contains deeply disappointing reports of bullying, harassment and workplace exclusion that are completely unacceptable to me and the senior leadership team at Airservices. This behaviour has no place in any workplace and must stop.
“Airservices has zero-tolerance for all forms of workplace bullying and harassment. Our staff are required to strictly comply with the organisation’s code of conduct, which explicitly prohibits all forms of bullying and harassment.
“Breaches of the code of conduct result in disciplinary action, including dismissal. I encourage anyone who experiences conduct of this nature to report it immediately.”
However, Civil Air’s executive secretary Peter McGuane believes the report is not enough.
“Civil Air welcomes any steps to fixing the broken culture at Airservices. We agree with Ms Broderick that urgent action is necessary,” he said.
“But these changes do not go far enough. Members feel let down.
“The current management team has committed time and time again to resolve the issues and there is a real risk that the new ‘action plan’ to address the recommendations may be little more than another hollow commitment to change.
“To effectively address the broken culture, senior management must be held to account. It is essential that the composition of senior management change.
“New approaches require new management. Otherwise, there is a real risk that Airservices will continue to be weighed down by the baggage of the past.”
Featured image credit: iStock/eejay62