14 July 2023

Campaign launched to address workplace violence against public servants

| Chris Johnson
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Andrew Barr

Chief Minister Andrew Barr has launched a campaign to reduce workplace violence against public servants. Photo: File.

The ACT Government has launched an advertising campaign aimed at reducing the rising rate of aggression towards frontline public servants.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said violence towards workers was unacceptable in any workplace and that must apply to Canberra’s public service providers and outlets.

“No matter what job you do in our community, it should be free from workplace violence,” the Chief Minister said.

“This includes when accessing an ACT Government service – whether that’s visiting a library, catching public transport, going to Access Canberra or receiving care at a Walk-in Centre.

“Every person working in the ACT Public Service is also a member of our community. They show up when we need them.”

Mr Barr also urged public servants to dob in aggressors in a bid to send a zero-tolerance message.

“If you experience workplace violence in the course of your job, please speak up,” he said.

“Report it to your employer, WorkSafe ACT or the police and access the support services available to you.”

The campaign has an underlying theme of ‘when you go to work, you want to know you’ll be safe doing your job’ and stresses that workplace violence is never okay.

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It notes that workplace violence shouldn’t be part of anyone’s experience, but least of all when those workers are doing what’s necessary to help make our city run smoothly.

It sends a clear message that community members being violent or abusive to workers won’t be tolerated.

Mr Barr said ensuring all of the ACT’s workplaces are safe for everyone is a priority for his government.

That means acknowledging workplace violence can happen, educating yourself and others about it, and taking personal steps to ensure you don’t contribute to it.

Violence and abuse are not ‘part of the job’, the campaign says.

Workplace violence is not only physical violence. It is any action, incident or behaviour that departs from reasonable conduct in which a person is assaulted, threatened, harmed or injured when doing their job.

Examples of workplace violence in the ACT Public Service include:

  • Health care, emergency services and housing services workers being physically assaulted by consumers;
  • Parking inspectors, bus drivers and shopfront workers experiencing verbal abuse; and
  • Teachers being harassed online by students and/or parents.

The campaign uses accounts of frontline workers’ experiences to highlight examples of workplace violence against public servants.

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“For me, things have gotten worse since COVID,” says ‘Brett’, a Transport Canberra bus driver featured in the campaign.

“A lot of people don’t even acknowledge you; they just walk in straight past you.”

One passenger threw a can at Brett’s head.

“That’s the sort of thing that can happen. You never know what’s going to trigger someone,” he says.

“This guy went from 0 to 100 in less than a second. If someone gets on the bus and wants to be violent, there’s only so much you can do.”

Parking inspector ‘Anushka’ knows he is vulnerable to aggressive behaviour from the public and just a few weeks ago was verbally abused for issuing a fine for a car parked in a loading zone.

“I was trying to explain the rules, but he didn’t want to listen. He just kept screaming at me,” Anushka says.

“Luckily there were another two inspectors close by.

“We always stay close in case something happens. When they walked over, he left.”

The ACT Government provides information and support to all its staff to ensure they know how to report workplace violence if they experience it.

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Public servants are being assaulted while doing their job and Barr rolls out an ad campaign, problem solved?

I’d be surprised if even one person has been charged for such actions over the last year; if Barr wants to “send a clear message” why not stick to more traditional methods.

Given the government’s actions over the past three years, this is analogous to Husák complaining about Charter 77. Entirely predictable and entirely caused by government.

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