Bullying and harassment have been found to permeate through Ambulance Victoria, with 12 employees reporting rape or attempted rape and others being driven to suicide.
In a first-volume, 500-page report released on Tuesday, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission found more than half of 2163 respondents to a survey were bullied and 47 per cent were discriminated against.
“The experiences shared with the commission show that Ambulance Victoria’s efforts to prevent unlawful and harmful conduct have so far been ineffective,” the report says.
The commission was called in by the service in October 2020 and found “certain behaviours, particularly everyday forms of disrespect, have seeped into the fabric of the organisation”.
Overwhelmingly, staff told the inquiry Ambulance Victoria was “a safe place if you are a white male”, but for women and those who are LGBTIQ+, have a disability and are from a racial or another minority group, there is a fear of being seen as being out of place.
There were 330 respondents who told the inquiry of unwanted sexual behaviour, mostly comments and jokes, but others reported unwelcomed touching, cornering and kissing.
Thirty-three employees reported requests or pressure for sexual interactions and 12 reported rape or attempted rape.
Of particular concern to the commission were the 16 people who reported the sexual harassment was ongoing when they completed the survey and 97 people who said they had been harassed within the previous year.
Paramedics reported being bullied by colleagues on jobs, to the point some were fearful of calling in the Mobile Intensive Care Ambulance and risk being humiliated in front of patients.
A new manager said they were exposed to a “toxic culture” and when he tried to tell senior management about bullying from one paramedic, they were told it was just one man and to “put your big boy pants on, go and sort it out yourself.”
“Who would’ve guessed the most traumatic thing I’ve experienced and witnessed as a (P)aramedic was workplace behaviour?” wrote another.
Some of the participants reported attempting suicide or developing suicidal ideation because of their experiences.
Ambulance Victoria has accepted all 24 of the commission’s recommendations to improve how the organisation seeks to prevent and respond to discrimination, sexual harassment, bullying and victimisation.
“The stories many of our people shared with the commission – experiences of discrimination, sexual harassment, bullying and victimisation, are deeply confronting,” Ambulance Victoria chief executive Tony Walker said.
“To those of our people who shared your experience, either with the commission or directly with me, I thank you for your enormous bravery.
“To those of you who have been subjected to behaviours and actions that are disrespectful, hurtful or unlawful, I unreservedly apologise.”
Among its new measures, Ambulance Victoria will create a new, dedicated division to drive workplace equality and reform, redesign its reporting and complaints system and create multiple anonymous reporting pathways.
“The findings paint a picture of a toxic workplace culture that has been protected and perpetuated by senior executives within the organisation,” Ambulance Employees Australia Victorian secretary Brett Adie said in a statement.
“Those responsible must be removed from the organisation for there to be any hope of transformational change.”
The final report by the VEOHRC is due in March 2022.