The former member said she had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder following the abuse and the alleged perpetrator was convicted of unlawful assault (documentation of which has been provided to the association). An SES inquiry had not resulted in action against the woman, she said. An SES spokesman said the organisation was not aware of the complaint.
“Incidents such as this and others that are in our survey suggest that the only sensible course of action is to have [the human rights commission] inquire into the culture of this workplace,” Dr Bendrups said. “This is extremely good news and the association is looking forward to working collaboratively with VicSES on this.”
Dr Bendrups said volunteers were reluctant to participate in internal SES reviews “because of fear of victimisation”. “Current measures are seen as too little, too late, and these types of cultural issues have been ongoing for years,” she said.
Nicole Warren, an SES volunteer for three years who has conducted more than 100 callouts, said she had been subject to repeated homophobic slurs while in her SES workplace. On one occasion a man had said to her, “You don’t need to worry about getting sweaty boobs because you don’t have any boobs,” referring to the fact Ms Warren had had surgery for breast cancer.
“I’m now on anti-depressants, which I’ve never been on in my life or through all my cancer journey. I’ve just been that low [after the SES workplace abuse]. In January I burst into tears at my oncologist and said, ‘I’m struggling, I just want to put my car into a tree.’ ”
Ms Warren said she would resign from the SES, as would her wife, who is also a volunteer.
Like several other SES volunteers or staff who have contacted The Age, she said that after she complained she was victimised. The SES said it had investigated Ms Warren’s complaint.
One long-serving staff member, who asked not to be named, said he was so traumatised by bullying from a manager that he had been “broken” and would shake uncontrollably at work.
“Due to the actions and victimisation of some of the staff, some have had such reaction to the mental stress it’s involved, shaking and collapsing at the mere thought of what they might have to endure again,” he said.
Acting Minister for Police and Emergency Services Danny Pearson said: “Everyone has a right to feel safe at work – whether they are staff or volunteers.
“Our emergency services do an amazing job looking after Victorians every day – but we expect all our agencies to maintain similarly high standards when it comes to workplace culture, health and safety.
“We have asked VicSES to ensure these incidents are being dealt with appropriately and that all staff and volunteers have the support they need.”
Crisis support is available from Lifeline on 13 11 14.
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