Airservices sexual harassment response not enough, says union

written by Adam Thorn | June 1, 2020
Air Traffic Controllers sitting at the work stations. (Airservices Australia)
Air Traffic Controllers sitting at the work stations. (Airservices Australia)

The union representing Airservices Australia’s staff has said management has not been held to account by a devastating investigation that revealed a culture of bullying and sexual harassment.

Civil Air said the action plan laid out by the report, and instigated by the business, doesn’t go far enough and could be “another hollow commitment to change”.

On Friday, Australian Aviation reported that a fresh investigation into Airservices by a former sex discrimination commissioner found that 37 per cent of women experienced sexual harassment and 50 per cent of all employees bullying.


Elizabeth Broderick’s report was commissioned by the business itself, and in response, chief executive Jason Harfield promised to implement its recommendations in full.

The ‘Framework for Action’ recommended a “blueprint for Airservices to build on its existing and emerging strategies to strengthen its culture across the organisation”.

It included a focus on what it called “courageous and inclusive leadership” and a shift towards a “compassionate and human-centred response to sexual harassment and bullying to enhance the reporting of incidents”.

Civil Air’s executive secretary, Peter McGuane, said, “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.”

The report identified that 20 per cent of respondents had “direct experience” of sexual harassment, rising to 37 per cent of women and 15 per cent of men.

It also concluded that “urgent action” is required to address the “very low levels of reporting” of the issue, adding, “It is clear there are work environments where people do not feel safe to speak up or to call out non-inclusive behaviour.”

The investigation, commissioned by the business itself, also published numerous claims by employees, including:

  • “[My manager said to me once] Why are you staying back at work? Do you want to f**k me? You should wear a dress. We can see your underpants.”
  • “The culture [in this tower] is totally toxic. It’s like Lord of the Flies or Animal Farm.”
  • “I am gay but I would never disclose it at work.”
  • “There is a poor culture overall. [There is an] old boys’ club which is more akin to a pub.”
  • “If you’re an ambitious female, there is no place for you.”

Airservices Australia chief executive Jason Harfield said, “Airservices will implement the report’s recommendations in full to ensure that we offer a safe, diverse and inclusive workplace for all of our employees.

“Prior to its publication, we had already undertaken a number of key steps to address unacceptable behaviours in our workplace and drive sustainable cultural reform. This includes the establishment of a dedicated Culture Program, introduction of a Bullying, Harassment and Discrimination Policy, and the appointment of a chief people and culture officer.

“Most significantly, the review highlighted the need for courageous and inclusive leadership as a driving force for cultural reform. We have introduced a number of development programs to strengthen the capabilities of our leadership cohort.

“Further changes are underway. Our response to the report identifies the actions we are taking to build a workplace that is free of bullying, sexual harassment, harassment, discrimination and other negative behaviours.”

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  • Craigy


    The ATC union is very powerful with the union having a say over so many issues including recruitment. I lost out on a job opportunity due to the union wanting someone else in the union to get the role. How do I know, friends on the inside. In my view the union response is pathetic. If they had wanted to do something, they would have done it years ago.

  • Anonymous


    It is an industry wide problem, it is not isolated to AIr Services Australia. Female pilots are constantly harassed, bullied and intimidated via a very similar culture.

  • mike


    What a load of crap. Very well remunerated staff in an environment where voicing concerns is actively promoted who vent in an annual survey because they want more. Some of those claims above are hard to believe. I don’t think controllers would be shy enough not to raise them with managers! ATC’s are not oppressed shrinking violets and have no concerns raising any issues. I am sick of this Airservices harassment issue being raised every few years and find it completely unfounded having been a long term employee. I am sure there are some issues but I am positive that there are much more extreme cases in other organisations. Do we see results of other organisations employee satisfaction surveys published! You must consider that there is only one employer of ATC’s in Australia and long term service can lead to unreal expectations. It is amazing how many that leave come back looking for re-employment which must say something about the culture.

    • Peter


      What rot.
      Serious issues. You think that if people get paid well they are more likely to speak up. They ones that speak up get shut down. The more you speak up the more you get targeted. ATC requires concentration and a work environment free from distractions. Foolish comments really.

    • Jenny


      Mike…..I wonder if you are part of the toxic management structure described in the various reports. Your comments certainly come across as naive and manager like.

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