Senior management at CSIRO have fallen silent over concerns raised by the Staff Association on the introduction of a drugs and alcohol policy that has sparked controversy in workplaces across the country.
Staff Association Secretary Susan Tonks wrote to CSIRO outlining detailed questions concerning the Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) policy in late February, following an influx of concerns from staff over the proposal. Six weeks later and the union has yet to receive a response.
“The Staff Association remains opposed to this policy in its current iteration, particularly in relation to the proposed introduction of random alcohol and drug testing at CSIRO,” Ms Tonks said.
“Randomised alcohol and drug testing of CSIRO staff is a disproportionate response to any identified risk and the AOD policy represents an inappropriate solution in search of a non-existent problem.”
“Work health and safety measures are extremely important but, must be proportionate to the risk involved. It is inappropriate to take measures under the guise of work health and safety, that unduly impinge on worker privacy and autonomy where those measures are not reasonably necessary to manage a work health and safety risk,” Ms Tonks said.
“Randomly testing employees for drugs and alcohol in the absence of any evidence that they are posing a risk to work health and safety is a disproportionate measure.”
“CSIRO have said that randomised testing of staff is necessary to meet community expectations around the use of alcohol and other drugs but have provided no examples of what community standards these refer to.”
“In the view of the Staff Association, due diligence and genuine consultation have not occurred in the development of the draft AOD policy,” Ms Tonks said.
“In a February meeting with the Staff Association, senior managers stated that the introduction of the CSIRO draft AOD policy was necessary for health and safety reasons.”
“If the relevant work and safety risk assessment was indeed conducted, it has never been shared with the union, any of our workplace delegates or independent workplace Health and Safety Representatives.”
“Staff Association members and staff have expressed concerns with requirements to disclose their medical history; for example, the prescribed medication that they are taking. CSIRO has no right to this information, and it is reasonable to expect that any loss of privacy is genuinely required to ensure safety,” Ms Tonks said.
CSIRO is obliged to comply with privacy legislation and principles and including the requirement to only collect information from staff that is reasonably necessary for the performance of work while disclosing specifics such as the purpose for which the information is being collected and the use to which the information will be put.
“The draft CSIRO AOD policy while referring to the Privacy Act, offers no details as to how CSIRO intends to comply privacy principles in undertaking drug and alcohol testing of its employees, Ms Tonks said.
“With respect to random testing, CSIRO has not provided a satisfactory reason as to why information about drug and alcohol use would need to be obtained in circumstances where there is no evidence of impairment, that is, no apparent risk to health or safety.”
“With respect to testing of employees who appear impaired by alcohol or drugs, CSIRO has to be mindful of its obligations under workplace and disability legislation not to discriminate against employees with a disability,” Ms Tonks said.
“Behaviours and symptoms characteristic of intoxication – such as impaired speech, motor skills, or concentration – may also be characteristic of certain physical or psychological disabilities and requiring persons with these characteristics to undergo an intrusive and potentially upsetting drug and alcohol testing processes may impinge upon their right not be subjected to discrimination on the grounds of their disability.”
Ms Tonks also raised concerns that requiring these employees to undertake a drug or alcohol test may call for the disclosure of medications and medical information which would otherwise remain private and confidential.
“The Staff Association is not satisfied that the CSIRO has established that the random drug and alcohol testing of workers will improve their safety; nor do we believe that random testing is the only or most effective control measure to prevent alcohol or drug related workplace health and safety incidents,” Ms Tonks said.
“CSIRO Executive has been unable or unwilling to point to a single workplace health and safety incident involving employees under the influence of drug and alcohol, or even been able to identify specific risks to health and safety.”
Ms Tonks said the union had also directly relayed several dozens of anonymised discrete concerns, in the words of CSIRO staff themselves, for consideration and response from Executive; but had so far yet to receive a response.