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Workplace Culture Of Air Traffic Control Could 'Endanger Safety' Of Travellers

A damning report has slammed Airservices Australia for an alleged rampant culture of bullying and sexual harassment, warning it could pose a safety risk not only to staff but air travellers.

The report, handed down by former Federal Court Judge Anthony North QC, alleged "a serious argument" that the workplace culture compromised employees' health and safety.

Airservices employs air traffic controllers, aviation rescue firefighters and provides the aviation industry with telecommunications, aeronautical data and navigation services.

According to its website, it employs more than 3500 staff, including 1000 air traffic controllers and has 29 towers at international and regional airports.

The report follows a survey of 500 Airservices employees conducted earlier this year by YouGov Galaxy, which found close to half of all respondents -- and more than three-quarters of female respondents -- said they had experienced bullying, discrimination or sexual harassment.

Many respondents cited managers as the alleged perpetrators.

Photo: Getty

One air traffic controller claimed sexual harassment was so rampant at Airservices, every female employee they knew personally had experienced sexual harassment on numerous occasions.

Another claimed nothing had changed after she had reported being sexually harassed to her managers.

"The issue starts right at the top of the tree," she said.

"There is a penis drawn on our chair. It goes on and on. It’s disgusting but nothing can be done."

North's report, commissioned by Morris Blackburn Lawyers -- representing the Civil Air trade union -- found "extreme sexual harassment" of female employees, along with inappropriate language and sexist remarks.

“The fact that such behaviour has been documented as occurring over many years and at various Airservices worksites allows for the conclusion that bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment is part of the way things are done at Airservices, that they are part of its culture, and that they are not isolated or aberrant occurrences,” North said in his report.

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.

The report also found Airservices has an abnormally high rate of absenteeism, which had resulted in cancelled flights on occasion. North said it was "reasonable" to conclude that may be linked to the workplace culture.

But the company has vehemently denied the allegations as "baseless", slamming the report as "false and alarmist claims".

"Airservices unequivocally rejects the suggestion from Anthony North QC that its workplace culture is negatively affecting safety. Airservices’ safety performance is demonstrably among the best in the world and always improving," a statement issued by the company said.

Photo: Getty

But while it denied all claims, Airservices said it had commissioned an independent review of its workforce culture, to "drive further improvement."

The review will be conducted by former sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick.

"We will share the findings of this review and any recommendations will be adopted to ensure that Airservices offers a safe, diverse and inclusive workplace for all of our employees," the statement said.

But Chief Executive Secretary of Civil Air, Peter McGuane, said there had been a long-running tolerance of a "systematic culture of bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment."

"By condoning the behaviour, often promoting the perpetrators and disciplining an employee who complains."

The union has called on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to launch a full, independent enquiry into the allegations.

Contact the author: vgerova@networkten.com.au