Airservices Australia staff sacked for bullying, sexual harassment

Chartered Qantas flight from India bringing back stranded Australian citizens arrives at Canberra International airport. Picture: Karleen Minney, THE CANBERRA TIMES, ACM.
Chartered Qantas flight from India bringing back stranded Australian citizens arrives at Canberra International airport. Picture: Karleen Minney, THE CANBERRA TIMES, ACM.

Dozens of Airservices Australia staff have been investigated or sacked over bullying or sexual harassment claims, after a damning review from Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick earlier in the year laid bare the aviation company's "toxic" culture.

Nine people - including four managers - have left the government-owned corporation since June 1 after bullying and harassment investigations, Airservices Australia chief executive Jason Harfield told Senate estimates on Tuesday night.

Around 50 code of conduct investigations have been instigated, with 13 currently in assessment mode and 12 still under investigation.

Three of the people currently under investigation for bullying are senior managers, Mr Harfield confirmed. Another five are managers.

One of the four people currently under investigation for sexual harassment is a senior leader within the organisation, Mr Harfield also said.

It came after Ms Broderick's report in May found one in two workers at Airservices Australia reported being bullied, while one in five reported being sexually harassed.

"The culture here is extremely poor. It's a boys' club. If you are not in with the right people, you're pushed aside," one worker told the review.

"The culture [in this Tower] is totally toxic. It's like Lord of the Flies or Animal Farm," another said.

In the wake of the review, Mr Harfield promised sweeping cultural changes.

"This behaviour has no place in any workplace and must stop," Mr Harfield said at the time.

Mr Harfield told the committee on Tuesday he'd taken responsibility for the toxic culture of the organisation.

"I did take time to reflect my entire time in the organisation for 30 years ... what are the things that I might have tacitly approved by walking past?" Mr Harfield said.

"I have stated to the entire organisation that I take full responsibility for not only the culture the organisation currently has, but also for addressing it and moving it forward."

The agency has been dogged by claims of bullying and harassment for decades.

It faced a $2 million lawsuit in 2010 after a manager allegedly told a female staff member he had ''a coat hanger in the back of his car'' when she told him she was pregnant.

The committee also heard 30 contract managers had been made redundant due to a fall in air traffic due to COVID-19.

Mr Harfield said while the Commonwealth had provided the agency with $850 million to tide it over until June next year, it was still facing difficulties.

It needed $30 million worth of savings last financial year and $85 million of savings this year.

This story Airservices Australia staff sacked for bullying, sexual harassment first appeared on The Canberra Times.