Administrative staff at the Department of Fire and Emergency Services claim senior management failed to protect them from repeated bullying by the United Firefighters Union.
Leaked workplace hazard reports logged on DFES’ injury management system detail a strained relationship between civilian staff and the union.
The department’s occupational health and safety director complains in one report of being “humiliated” by a UFU official who contradicted her in front of about 70 officers during a DFES seasonal outlook forum in November. The Weekend West understands multiple senior managers were present.
Under “corrective actions” to address the hazard, the report lists a directive by Commissioner Darren Klemm to senior managers instructing them to immediately intervene when “inappropriate behaviours including slandering occurs”.
It is not clear whether such a directive has been issued.
In a series of reports, the department’s workplace complaints and injury management team complain of being belittled and denigrated by a UFU circular to members advising them to have no confidence in the unit.
The Weekend West understands the WCIM team went on collective stress leave after the February circular.
“I am expected to provide a safe place of work for my team, however I feel quite powerless to do so in the face of ongoing and personal attacks by the industrial body,” one complainant wrote.
“(The circular) may impact my professional registration as a health professional,” wrote another, adding
“Initial DFES response to the UFU bullying, personal attacks and defamation was appalling.”
Corrective actions included “no contact with any UFU official until further notice” and “full independent safety investigation required”.
UFU state secretary Lea Anderson said she was the official who spoke at the November forum but denied overstepping the mark or attacking anyone.
She labelled the hazard reports about the February circular as “an abuse of the occupational health and safety system”.
“This appears to me to be an example of a massive overreaction to criticism,” she said.
“The issues complained about by the UFU in that circular have for the most part been resolved.”
Mr Klemm said he was unable to comment on specific incidents but “any behaviour that intimidates, threatens or devalues our people cannot be tolerated and we are committed to fostering a safe and inclusive workplace”.
After a week of damaging headlines, including a departmental investigation of the departure of WA’s first female superintendent Amanda Williamson and UFU action to stop non-firefighters entering the DFES rank structure, Mr Klemm announced “an ongoing program of cultural reform”.
DFES had retained KPMG consultant Elizabeth Shaw, deputy chair of Inclusion WA and former president of UN Women Australia, to “advise and coach senior staff on driving inclusion, diversity and equality”.
Shadow emergency services minister Steve Thomas called for a Public Sector Commission investigation of “bullying, intimidation and union influence” at public departments. Emergency Services Minister Fran Logan said the PSC would get a copy of the independent report on Ms Williamson’s departure.