A Broken Social Security Systems Leads To Bullying Workplaces – A First Hand Account

By an AUWU Member

Recently I resigned from my casual job at a regional council Gallery due to bullying and discrimination. It took me over a year to land this casual position and I was grateful for the small amount of work the Gallery drip fed me, which had me competing for hours with four other women and which hasn’t allowed me to get off welfare benefits. I asked constantly for more work but instead they recently hired more casual staff and took on volunteers! I was also tasked with picking up stock from 150ks away which involved two trips of a total of 10 hours, in my own vehicle, for which I was allowed to claim 4.5 hours for and received no petrol allowance.

Before my resignation I was a fairly new staff member having been employed just before a period of renovation which saw casuals receive only a few days work during the past 6 months. I had received very little training prior to the renovation period and that which I did receive was made difficult by a supervisor who was in a deeply bad mood all the time. I tried very hard to develop a positive working relationship and friendship with my supervisor and have been disappointed that my attempts ultimately failed.

I resumed work over the last few weeks in an unpleasent, stressed out environment where I was alternately bossed around, hissed at, bullied or ignored by my supervisor. I was not greeted when I arrived for my shift, I bought her a decaf one morning and she snapped at me for it because she doesn’t like coffee. When I needed help and tried to explain how I needed help and with what aspect of a task I was confused about I was told to consult a manual which the supervisor had written, one which I had difficultly making sense of and I was further criticized for not paying enough attention or not asking for more help more often when I made mistakes. Even though she spent a good deal of time managing her family crisis on her mobile I was told I could not use my phone at work. In short I couldn’t do anything right at all and she tended to work to a double standard.

I am in cancer recovery, my 3rd year out of treatment and I had informed my supervisor on more than one occasion that I had difficulty concentrating due to the medications I take and understanding procedures takes me a bit of extra time. My supervisor remaind oblivious to this fact in her approach to my training.

My supervisor had a habit of standing uncomfortably close to me when I was working on the desktop and would look over my shoulder while I was entering passwords into the computer, when trying to perform tasks my supervisor would cut in and accuse me of fault before I had even started to perform the task. When I completed a task my supervisor would find fault in the task to point of critisizing me for not putting an item of stationary in the correct draw and placing a key on the wrong side of the desk.

I was made to feel so nervous that I could not perform basic tasks and I suffered from deep anxiety during work hours if I was rostered with her. Hot flashes which are a side effect of the meds I am on, were made worse from stress during and after work hours due to this behaviour. On the 25 of July I received an email from my supervisor asking me to call her “asap” which I did and was subsequently accused of stealing from the til the night before. I had left a note explaining that the til had not balanced on paper (I had the opportunity of personally balancing the til around 4 times and had expressed my lack of experience to my supervisor prior to my shifts). I was unsure why the report did not match, having had limited experience with the software system, but was sure it was a balanced till, ie: all the cash and eftpos transactions were accounted for but in the wrong place, we needed to run a report and see where the missing amount had gone and I did not know how to do that. My supervisors response seemed over the top, literally hissing at me over the phone “what have you done with the money?” “where’s the money? What have you done?” the tone of which made me panic and unable to respond at all. Later in the day she called me back insisting that I come into work the next day for a “talking to” with the other staff member I had been working with and was palpably frustrated when I expressed that I could not on such short notice, owing to another engagement. She kept saying she wanted to know what I had done with the money so I suggested that she involve security seeings she was clearly implying I had stolen the money and she said she had already done that,(the missing amount was $80.00, the money was located later that day but no one thought to inform me about it).

I explained my concerns regarding my lack of effective training to my supervisor again over the phone and repeated this in my letter of resignation toward the end of the day to the Director of the Gallery who sent me a very rude email back accusing me of letting the team down, being an untrainable person, choosing to learn in a particular way (I am a person who learns by experience and doing, learning from my mistakes. I don’t choose to be like this, it is the way I am neurologically wired) and causing a “security breach” by leaving a door unlocked on a day when I was not even working. My supervisor had misinformed him about the days I was rostered on making someone else’s mistake seem like it was mine. At no time did the Director ask for my testimony regarding the situation leading up to my resignation. I am currently seeking legal advise about this matter and am back to trying to live on a welfare payment of $250 a week. The experience has been incredibly demoralising, disempowering and disturbing. My longterm situation of underemployment has left me in a position where I am unable to cope with bullying behaviours in the workplace and as a constant casual I feel I have no support at all, not from fellow staff or from my superiors. I am very depressed from this isolating experience which has robbed me of the small amount of workplace agency I possessed over the past year and a half. This experience compounds negative and antisocial thinking which I have begun to experience on a regular basis.