Independent report confirms bullying and sexism at Airservices
Australia poses serious risk to safety and requires urgent action
A damning report by former Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick into
Airservices Australia has confirmed the organisation is rife with bullying and sexual harassment, backing
union concerns its toxic culture poses a threat to employee health and therefore to the safety of travellers.
Ms Broderick was commissioned to examine Airservices after Civil Air released a report prepared by former
Federal Court Judge, the Honourable Anthony North QC last July detailing serious concerns that that the
organisation’s culture was so pervaded by bullying and sexual harassment that it posed a possible threat to
the safety of air travellers.
Consistent with Mr North’s report, Ms Broderick’s report A Review of Culture at Airservices Australia, which
was released today, confirmed management had failed to address an appalling culture which had
developed over many years.
“The Review Team also found distinct areas of the culture that require immediate action and reform. The
levels of bullying, in particular, as well as sexual harassment are unacceptable. They need to be addressed
as a matter of urgency,” the report concluded.
“Similarly urgent action is required to address the very low levels of reporting, particularly in relation to
sexual harassment. It is clear there are work environments where people do not feel safe to speak up or to
call out non-inclusive behaviour.”
The report claims to “speak to a culture that is not psychologically safe” at Airservices. The report has
brought to light employee testimony describing Airservices as a “boys’ club”, a “male-dominated culture”, a
“culture underpinned by fear… where bullying is normalised” and as beset by “overwhelming toxic
The report noted that “employees told the Review Team of their ‘cynicism’ about management decisions
and their ‘distrust’ and ‘fear’ of managers, including those in senior roles” and in relation to Air Traffic
Controllers, that “only one in three Air Navigation Services employees feel that their work role is valued by
the organisation, a rate lower than other areas within Airservices.”
Ms Broderick’s report was based on a thorough investigation of workplaces across Airservices’ business
and was based on feedback from hundreds of employees. The report found:
Many respondents felt “extremely let down by their managers”‘;
Bullying was a “significant and frequent theme” across Airservices, and is “an element of the
Airservices culture and is pervasive throughout the organisation”;Half of all respondents had
experienced bullying at Airservices, with almost one quarter being bullied in the past 12
months (the same time as Ms Broderick was conducting her inquiry);
20% of respondents had experienced sexual harassment at Airservices;
Fear of retribution is widespread amongst employees causing “very low” rates of reporting
and complaints about inappropriate behaviour.
Peter McGuane Executive Secretary of Civil Air says that “this report confirms what Civil Air has long
claimed – that the culture at Airservices is broken. Sexism, sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination
are prevalent at Airservices, and have become culturally entrenched. This report is a further blow to
Airservices’ senior management, who have regularly denied a problem exists, shielded Airservices’ culture
from criticism and refused to implement cultural change.”
The report recommends a significant shake-up including the establishment of a Cultural Reform Board
designed to set cultural change in motion across the organisation.
Mr McGuane says “Civil Air welcomes any steps to fixing the broken culture at Airservices. We agree with
Ms Broderick that urgent action is necessary. But these changes do not go far enough.
“Members feel let down. The current management team has committed time and time again to resolve the
issues and there is a real risk that the new ‘action plan’ to address the recommendations may be little more
than another hollow commitment to change.
“To effectively address the broken culture, senior management must be held to account. It is essential that
the composition of senior management change. New approaches require new management. Otherwise,
there is a real risk that Airservices will continue to be weighed down by the baggage of the past.”
Kamal Farouque, Principal at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers who act for Civil Air, said: “Civil Air stepped up to
the plate to fix the bullying and harassment at Airservices and will be closely monitoring Airservices’
response to the Broderick report. This is the beginning of a long process and Civil Air will hold Airservices
Mr North’s report was commissioned by leading workplace lawyers Maurice Blackburn Lawyers for Civil Air,
the trade union covering Air traffic Controllers and supporting employees of Airservices.
In light of Airservices’ core safety function, Mr North observed: “Of particular concern in the air navigation
control environment, in which Airservices operates, is the potential for the poor workplace culture to have
effects which compromise the safety of aircraft and passengers.”