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Passenger safety at risk from ‘putrid’ air traffic control workplace culture

Airservices Australia's workplace culture has been slammed: Images: Getty, A REPORT CONCERNING THE WORKPLACE OF AIRSERVICES AUSTRALIA

A damning report into Australia’s air traffic control centres has found the workplace culture to be so bad it could compromise passengers’ safety.

The report, from former Federal Court Judge Anthony North, warned that Airservices Australia’s workplace culture was not only dangerous for its employees, but also for the overall safety of Australia’s skies. The report has been delivered to the Airservices Australia board.

Commissioned by Maurice Blackburn Lawyers for Civil Air, the relevant trade union, the report found that “bullying, discrimination, and sexual harassment are features of the experience of many employees of Airservices”.

On top of that, workers “are not confident that management condemns the behaviour and acts effectively to prevent or stop it”, the report said.

A long-standing problem, report alleges

The systemic and repetitive nature of the behaviour indicates they are not one-off incidences, North added.

“The fact that such behaviour has been documented as occurring over many years and at various Airservices worksites allows for the conclusion that bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment is part of the way things are done at Airservices, that they are part of its culture, and that they are not isolated or aberrant occurrences.”

According to a YouGov poll of 500 Airservices workers, 46 per cent had experienced bullying, discrimination or sexual harassment, with one worker describing the federal agency as having a “putrid” culture towards women.

“Airservices has a significant problem with discrimination against women,” the respondent said.

“Personally I have coasted through this organisation with relatively little effort while some of the women I know work significantly harder than I do for very little recognition.”

Another respondent said they had reported harassment, but beyond an email reminding workers to “be mindful”, no other changes occured.

“There are way points in my airspace that spell out ‘Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone’,” the respondent said.

“There is a penis drawn on our chair. It just goes on and on. It’s disgusting but nothing can be done.

“If I could move to another company in Australia and be an air traffic controller I would have long ago.”

Passengers’ lives at risk

North said that the culture could be seriously impacting not only employee productivity and safety, but also that of air travellers.

“There is a serious argument to be further investigated that the Airservices Australia workplace culture of bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment could endanger the safety of air navigation and as a result endanger the lives of air travellers,” he stated.

Airservices Australia has called Australia's former sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick to conduct a review into the agency’s culture in response to the report.

Airservices Australia has said it rejects North’s claim that passengers lives were at risk.

“Airservices unequivocally rejects the suggestion from Anthony North QC that its workplace culture is negatively affecting safety.

“Airservices’ safety performance is demonstrably among the best in the world and always improving,” Airservices said.

“There is no factual basis for these false and alarmist claims. When our safety performance is compared against our peers, we compare exceptionally well.”

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