Our complaints process is broken

Members – we have a problem. A problem that the Rockliff Government is well aware of but isn’t rushing to fix: the complaints system is broken in our State Service. 

The public sector is drowning under an unprecedented number of inquiries – Commission of Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, Parliament, Office of Racing Integrity, Ambulance Ramping, Prisons, the Emergency Department and now there is a push for one into compliance activities in abattoirs.  

This is only the tip of the iceberg with many more external reviews into cultural issues in toxic workplaces. 

Behind every one of these inquiries and reviews are workers who have been raising their concerns, often for years. Concerns of understaffing, insufficient training and development, poor culture and inappropriate behaviour, outdated standards and legislation, and a tendency to ignore problems when they are raised. 

The cost to workers and the community is huge and climbing. Rising costs of workers compensation for psychological injuries related to workload, stress, bullying and harassment. And a growing retention problem as workers choose to leave rather than stay and continue the push for change.  

Not to mention the damage to the integrity and trust in the public sector. 

Many of these inquiries have only come about because of industrial action, whistleblowers, shocking media coverage and lobbying from individual parliamentarians, usually following drawn-out internal processes that have failed.  

The State Service Annual Report showed that in 2022-23, a total of 228 employees lodged grievances across eight agencies, which with a total paid head count of 35,275 employees (in the State Service at 30 June 2023) is less than 1% of the workforce.  When the State Service is experiencing systemic failings yet less than 1% of workers are lodging grievances, it means workers have no trust that lodging a grievance will make any difference. 

The investigation of complaints is ridiculously slow, often taking years, and the onus is put on those making complaints to provide proof.  It is a gruelling process that has a physical and emotional cost and is perceived by many to have a real impact on career prospects.  Or they are completely ignored, often not even provided any feedback on whether the grievance has been investigated or dealt with. 

Last year’s People Matter survey backed this up, with repeated surveys finding 61 per cent of respondents who had experienced bullying did not report the behaviour, with the key reasons being that they “did not think any action would be taken” (56 per cent), it could “affect my career” (38 per cent) and 70 per cent of those who had experienced sexual harassment opting to not report it.
If a complaint is made against you, you are subjected to the same long-drawn-out process, regardless of the seriousness of the matter and even if you take responsibility. 

Clearly there is a gap – and it’s people who are falling through it. The damage and the loss from the fallout is incalculable and complex. 

Without fixing how complaints are made, investigated and dealt with – we can’t track problems across agencies or our public service as a whole. Effectively there are no eyes on the public sector to ensure it’s a safe place to work. No eyes on the issues that workers are continually raising that pose a risk to the community. 

To do this, we need a complaints system that works. 

So, make sure you tell your story. Your stories create the pressure we need to start to change this damaging, ineffective process.

Tell us your story

  • Have you tried to lodge a grievance to resolve an issue? 
  • Has it taken too long? 
  • Have you given up and not followed through on your grievance? 
  • Have you put off making a grievance because you know the system is broken?
  • What would you like to see changed?
  • What repercussions have you seen or experience from this broken system?

Tell us your story and we can share anonymously: email communications@tas.cpsu.com.au

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