The workplace safety watchdog has confirmed it is investigating bullying claims levelled at the office of Premier Daniel Andrews by outgoing MP Kaushaliya Vaghela.
In an article published days after she sensationally crossed the floor to vote against her party to refer Labor’s 2018 “red shirts” rort to the Ombudsman, Ms Vaghela alleged she had experienced years of bullying and intimidation.
The government said it had investigated some of the claims and that an adviser responsible for bullying had left their role.
Last Sunday, the Premier labelled Ms Vaghela’s claim that he turned a blind eye to bullying accusations “fantasy without foundation”.
The rebel MP said she was “sickened” by the government’s response to her story, and said she had documented alleged bullying from April 2019 that she would provide to WorkSafe as part of her complaint.
Shadow Minister for Workplace Safety Nick Wakeling wrote to WorkSafe requesting an investigation on Tuesday.
On Sunday, Mr Wakeling said he had not spoken to Ms Vaghela directly about the issue and did not know whether she had approached WorkSafe herself.
He said the opposition’s referral to the watchdog included media reports and Ms Vaghela’s comments on social media.
WorkSafe Victoria confirmed it received the complaint.
A spokeswoman said the watchdog had “commenced an investigation into the matters raised”.
Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, WorkSafe must investigate any alleged contraventions of the act to identify if a breach has occurred.
“WorkSafe has got a job to do and I’ll let WorkSafe get on with it,” said government minister Ben Carroll when asked about the investigation.
He said he understood appropriate action had been taken to remove the adviser after the bullying claims were made.
The explosive bullying allegations came amid factional infighting within the Labor Party, and in the wake of accusations of branch-stacking by disgraced MP Adem Somyurek and his allies, including Ms Vaghela.
The branch-stacking allegations prompted an anti-corruption investigation and claimed several political scalps.
Mr Wakeling said the allegations were “very serious”.
“No-one is above the law, any incidents of workplace bullying need to be investigated,” he said.
Personal injury lawyer Sha Hotchin, from Shine Lawyers, said it was common for a third party to refer a complaint.
“Anyone can make a complaint to WorkSafe, including the person who has faced the alleged bullying and harassment, but anyone else who might have observed it or been involved in it, including the opposition, can lodge a claim to WorkSafe,” she said.
Ms Hotchin said she had not seen a bullying complaint referred to WorkSafe before as it more typically dealt with threats to life, such as equipment failures.
“Bullying and harassment-type complaints are often investigated internally and reviewed by employers and HR departments, however, if it’s in the public interest to investigate, WorkSafe can get involved,” she said.
She said this investigation was likely to take a few months.
“They’ll interview people within the organisation, anyone who’s witnessed the alleged bullying, people that may be aware, review docs … and internal workings of how they prevent or address bullying issues,” she said.
“I don’t believe there will be any findings until about May.”
She said the Premier would also be interviewed it was alleged he was involved in the bullying or harassment or if he needed to provide evidence of policies and procedures in place to deal with bullying.
Source: ABC News