Report finds ‘no culture of bullying’ at Wollondilly Council

Wollondilly Council staff held a stop work meeting at 9am. Picture: Joshua Bartlett
Wollondilly Council staff held a stop work meeting at 9am. Picture: Joshua Bartlett

Wollondilly Council staff have expressed doubts with the findings of a report which apparently states that no culture of workplace bullying or harassment exists at council.

Staff walked off the job at 9am today while a union representative examined a redacted copy of the findings and recommendations.

Staff, councillors and members of the community have spent the past week outraged at Mr Johnson’s refusal to make the document public.

Mr Johnson only allowed access to a redacted copy of the findings after workers threatened to strike and  councillors made a legal demand to see the document.

United Services Union spokesman Rudi Oppitz received his copy of the findings and recommendations of the report this morning.

He later told staff the report found there was no evidence of a culture of bullying or harassment at Wollondilly Council.

“I am surprised by that finding but will reserve further commentary until I see the rest of the report,” Mr Oppitz said.

Mr Oppitz said he expected to receive a full redacted copy of the report on Monday.

He has scheduled another stop work meeting with union members at 9am on Tuesday.

“At that time I will be providing members with further detail on the recommendations and findings,” Mr Oppitz said.

“Members will then determine what their next steps are.

“Several members have already voiced their concerns in regards to the findings revealed today that no bullying or harassment culture exists.

“I said it’s better for us to be more informed before taking any action and they’ve accepted that advice.”

Councillors are expected to receive a redacted copy of the full report at an extraordinary meeting tomorrow night.

They obtained legal advice on Monday which said they were entitled to receive and read a redacted copy which blacked out private details to ensure no confidentiality breach occurred.

Mayor Judith Hannan said councillors passed a resolution on Monday night asking Mr Johnson to table a redacted copy of the report at an extraordinary meeting on Thursday at 7.30pm.

“Councillors want to see what the recommendations are in order to help council staff implement them,” she said.

She said there was wide public interest in the report and keeping its contents confidential would not serve the community’s need for transparency. 

It appeared that argument, and the legal advice sought by councillors, resonated with council executives, who yesterday authorised a staff member to tell the Advertiser  “an external company had been engaged to undertake redaction of the report in a legal and appropriate way.” 

Mr Johnson originally ordered the report following the suicide of council staff member David ‘Harry’ Wilson in June.

In the decade before his death at 61, Mr Wilson, of Bargo, had lodged several complaints about bullying and harassment at work.

Last Thursday Mr Johnson addressed staff and read a prepared statement  which outlined the reasons for his decision to keep the report confidential.

He told staff that releasing the report would breach the confidentiality of those who had been interviewed by workplace lawyer Brooke Pendlebury.

“Ms Pendlebury’s report required that she engage in a series of confidential discussions with council personnel,” Mr Johnson’s statement said.

“I accept that unless Ms Pendlebury’s was  kept confidential then that would prejudice the opportunity for the supply to the council of confidential information  … and prejudice the effective exercise by the Council of its functions.”

The statement also said Mr Johnson was not required by law to disclose the report to anyone else.

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