A new national Workers’ Helpline will be launched at the ACTU’s 2003 Congress in Melbourne today.

The Helpline is designed to assist all workers, particularly those who are young or new to the workforce and have little idea about their rights.

The ACTU currently runs a call centre to service the needs of union members but also receives around 30,000 calls a year from workers who are not in a union and have no access to workplace advice or basic information.

Many of these workers are young and have experienced intimidation but don’t realise they have been bullied.

Most bullying – such as bossing people around, threatening people or keeping them under constant work and time pressure – is not obvious.

It is estimated that 350,000 workers are subjected to long term bullying in Australia, while 2.5 million experience some aspect of bullying over the course of their working lives. Union surveys suggest workplace bullying may be costing Australian business up to $3 billion annually.

Over half the respondents (53%) to union surveys report an unhappy and oppressive workplace, and 54% say that that intimidating behaviour – shouting, ordering and belittling people happens in their workplaces. Almost a third report abusive language.

The Workers’ Helpline is not intended to replace union call centres. It will provide a referral service for people who have a problem at work but are not union members.

In consultation with unions, the ACTU will develop a protocol to refer callers to the relevant union, a panel of labour law firms or to handle calls in-house on a fee for service basis.

The number for the new Workers’ Helpline is 1300 362 223