Australian workplace bullies face 10 years in jail

2011-04-05 07:22

Melbourne – Australian workers who bully their colleagues could be jailed for up to a decade under proposed new laws following the suicide of a cafe worker, a minister said today.

Victoria attorney-general Robert Clark said he would introduce legislation into the state’s parliament to make clear that serious bullying was a crime punishable by up to 10 years behind bars.

“There should be no doubt that serious bullying is a serious crime which should carry a serious jail term,” Clark said in a statement.

The proposed changes would mean the kind of abuse endured by 19-year-old Brodie Panlock, who killed herself in 2006 after months of mental and physical bullying at her workplace, would result in a jail term, Clark added.

Panlock jumped from the roof of an apartment building to her death after being subjected to vicious and unrelenting bullying – including being spat on and regularly called “fat”, “stupid” and “ugly” – since starting work at the Melbourne cafe the previous year.

During the court case, Melbourne magistrates heard that Panlock’s co-workers reduced her to tears by pouring fish oil into her bag and over her hair and clothes, and had taunted her after an earlier failed suicide attempt.

After the teenager had taken rat poison to end her life, one worker then left rat poison in her bag while another colleague urged her to take it.

The case resulted in convictions and fines totalling A$335 000 (R2.3 million) for three co-workers and the cafe owner but none was jailed under the prevailing law.

Panlock’s parents welcomed the proposed new laws.

“I think it’s going to make a big difference to how people react at work. (The law was) never there for Brodie but it is there now,” mother Rae Panlock told ABC Radio.

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