Bullying culture probed

By Evelyn Leckie – 

CITY of Whittlesea councillors used the tabling of a safety and wellbeing report to deliver emotional accounts of bullying, not only within the organisation but amongst councillors.

Councillors at last week’s meeting noted 32 actions identified in the 2019 wellbeing plan have been achieved, but there had also been a significant increase of lodged incidents and psychological stress relating to councillor behaviour and descisions.

Cr Mary Lalios commended the small steps forward but said councillor safety and wellbeing needed to be prioritised just as much as all other staff.

Cr Lalios said councillors were not 100 per cent across WorkSafe investigations and staffing matters despite what was reported in the media.

Mayor Emilia Sterjova added councillors were not allowed to interact with staff members, citing confusion on how councillors were impacting staff members.

“Our protocol as it stands are, councillors are not allowed to interact with staff members at all,” Cr Sterjova said.

The mayor went on to deliver an emotional speech citing her concern of councillor behaviour.

“I’m very concerned of behaviours of our councillors, not particularly towards staff, but towards each other,” she said.

“Every councillor also deserves to feel safe in their workplace.

“I will be brutally frank… whether I’m slammed by my colleagues or not. I’ve not only witnessed, but I’ve experienced bullying from other councillors – and that is not right.”

Deputy mayor Alahna Desiato added council’s directors and chief executive should drive culture changes in the workplace, not councillors.

“I’ll be frank, I can’t take responsibility for 1000 staff members, we are not allowed to speak with staff, I don’t know the particulars, it’s not out role,” she said.

“We also need to take care of ourselves, I haven’t felt supported here, it’s been a very difficult time.”

Cr Sam Alessi said the report however should be focused on the wellbeing of staff.

“We have a record number of staff going on stress leave. It’s important to note things are occurring as a result of certain councillors and staff being affected,” Cr Alessi said.

Cr Lawrie Cox agreed, saying staff should be the report’s main focus.

“This is an attempt [for councillors] to get out of jail, because the problem is sitting around this table,” Cr Cox said.

Cr Cox also cited Cr Ricky Kirkham’s recent departure, saying he was due to face a councillor conduct panel for alleged bullying.

A WorkSafe investigation is underway in relation to bullying complaints involving councillors and officers.