A recent call from a distressed truck driver facing bullying at work was the catalyst for Big Rigs to dive deeper into the issue and the prevalence of bullying in the workplace – particularly in the transport sector.
“It’s belittling and you can’t even say anything without getting your head chewed off. My boss rang one day and said if you don’t like working here, why don’t you leave,” said the experienced truck driver, who’s been on the road for decades.
“I’ve told them that what they said to me is uncalled for. And when I pull them up on it, they tell me to keep my cool. It’s really hard and intimidating. They’d rather watch you suffer than help you,” she continued.
“Management looks at you like you’re just a whinger. But if management does not do anything about it, then them not acting on it is another class of bullying because they think it’s okay.”
Sadly, stories like this are not at all uncommon.
As employment relations manager at the Queensland Trucking Association (QTA), Jim Challis, explained, “From an employer perspective, employers have to ensure that they have a bullying and harassment policy in place. There are plenty of templates around that employers can use. And they have to ensure that this policy is part of the onboarding process when someone starts work with the company. It’s about letting staff know what’s expected of them.
“And if you’re experiencing bullying in the workplace, you must report it. Once it’s reported, then the managers need to act on it immediately. It’s just not fair for someone to be experiencing bullying. If managers are unsure of the process, they can contact the QTA and we can guide them through that.”
According to the Fair Work Commission’s (FWC) annual report for 2022-23, there were 681 applications for an order to stop bullying, and a further 27 applications for an order to stop bullying and sexual harassment.
In reality however, the number of people experiencing bullying in the workplace is far greater, with many cases going unreported due to a fear of possible repercussions among other reasons.
The FWC defines bullying as when a person or a group of people behaves unreasonably towards a worker or a group of workers, and this happens more than once and this creates a risk to health and safety.
This can include behaviours such as being aggressive or intimidating, using abusive or offensive language, mocking or humiliating someone or holding ‘initiation ceremonies’.
As Challis reiterated, “The definition of bullying is just repeated, unwanted, unreasonable behaviour. I’ve had some instances in the past where people say they’ve been bullied, when it’s been a once-off comment, which isn’t defined as bullying. But if it’s repeated and discriminatory, the managers have got to respond to it.
“And confidentiality must be maintained. You can have a confidentiality document that you can get management to sign. The manager investigating it also has to remain impartial. It’s also important to keep records of what’s been said.”
Though this wasn’t the case for the truckie who contacted Big Rigs. She said when she approached management, an email was circulated that added further fuel to the fire.
“It does all get to you – I know I’ve been in the industry for long enough, but I’ve never been picked on so much as I have at this company. It’s constant verbal abuse. A lot of it has to do with fact that I’m female. They think I’m new to the industry because of the way I look,” she said.
“I love driving, I love doing my job, but it’s getting to the point now that I don’t want to go back to the depot, I just want to hide.
“I shouldn’t have to do that though. I want to go to work, I need to go to work and I want to be happy in my work.”
But what do you do when management sweeps workplace bullying under the rug?
Workers can apply to the FWC for its assistance in dealing with claims to stop workplace bullying, which starts a legal process.
CEO of Women in Trucking Australia (WiTA), Lyndal Denny, says she is fielding constant calls from female truckies experiencing bullying at work. “It’s so prevalent in the industry – week after week I have women calling me about appalling behaviour,” she said.
“WiTA reached out to five women who’ve dug deep to revisit and share their stories of enduring multiple instances of excruciating workplace bullying. Their experiences offer lessons that can help us all.”
Most of these five women were the first females to have been employed in their workplaces.
“All these women have suffered depressive symptoms ranging from sleeplessness through to experiencing suicidal ideations. It seems bullying occurs across-the-board in small, medium and large companies,” said Denny.
“Given the complete lack of support from management, in every instance, these women I interviewed had resigned.”
According to Denny, the current disproportionate split – with 98 per cent of truck drivers being male and only 2 per cent being female – leaves women far more vulnerable to workplace bullying than men.
“Businesses urgently need to take action to keep these talented women in the sector. Misogynistic behaviour runs deep with many bullies failing to recognise their behaviour as an issue,” Denny explained.
“Given the difficulties many women face finding work – the threat of losing their livelihoods is highly stressful.”
Of the five women who recently opened up about their stories with Denny, the bullying took many different forms.
“I was subjected to supervisors degrading me and my skillset openly to my crew and in front of me,” said one victim.
“I was expected and told to use broken machinery; and forced to drive trucks that didn’t meet safety standards,” said another.
“Rumours began to spread that I wasted mechanics’ time with my truck needs,” added another.
From their colleagues, these victims of bullying reported things like nasty notes being left on their trucks, having dirt thrown in the truck cab, having others refusing to sit with them, being referred to as the cook, being mocked for their weight, being ignored for months at a time, being humiliated and made a spectacle of while learning to back trailers, told the wrong information for a run or given difficult runs continuously, being degraded over the radio – the list goes on.
To make matters worse, in the majority of these cases, management also turned a blind eye.
“There have been occasions where management are the bullies,” one of the victims said. “There’s been no support from management – they degraded, blamed and threatened me.”
Another commented, “I’ve never felt supported by management in any trucking job I’ve had.”
Health in Gear provides free counselling and 24/7 phone support for transport and logistics workers and their families.
According to Health in Gear, which was developed by the OzHelp Foundation, truck drivers represent the second highest occupational group, after construction workers, at risk of suicide.
Its support line is answered by trained professionals, with afterhours support provided by Trauma Centre Australia, where a team of psychologists continue to offer tailored support.
WiTA is also currently in the process of setting up a free and confidential helpline to support female drivers struggling with a range of issues – including workplace bullying – providing counselling and industrial relations support. It is due to be launched in early 2024.
• Health In Gear: visit the website or call 1800 464 327.
• Lifeline: visit the website or call 13 11 14.
• Beyond Blue: visit the website or call 1300 22 4636.