Thousands of public service workers who were bullied or sexually harassed have kept the incident under wraps, fearing nothing would be done or their career would be put in jeopardy by speaking out.

The damning findings, contained in the annual Working for Queensland Survey, reveal almost one quarter of the 82,071 public sector survey respondents - about 18,000 employees - had experienced bullying or harassment of some kind.

A staggering 70 per cent of people who were sexually harassed and 58 per cent people bullied said they did not report it over fear no action would be taken or it could affect their career.

Shockingly, 17 per cent said they were subject to "an unwelcome demand or request, either directly or implied, for sexual favours".

Remarks of a sexual nature were the main offence (71 per cent), followed by unwanted physical intimacy (34 per cent).

Half of the incidents were committed by a worker's colleague and 16 per cent by a senior manager.



The number of workers harassed or bullied in the public service is slightly lower than in 2019.

Queensland Public Service Commissioner Rob Setter was concerned about the result.

"Bullying and harassment will not be tolerated in Queensland public sector workplaces," he said.

"Ongoing work across the sector has seen the proportion of employees who indicated they have witnessed bullying or sexual harassment has declined by two percentage points each year from 28 per cent in 2017 to 22 per cent in 2020."


The Qld state government office building, 1 William Street dubbed The Tower of Power, Brisbane. Picture: Lyndon Mechielsen/The Australian
The Qld state government office building, 1 William Street dubbed The Tower of Power, Brisbane. Picture: Lyndon Mechielsen/The Australian


Mr Setter said employees felt increasingly empowered, engaged, and positive.

"The Queensland public service has risen to the extraordinary challenge of helping to carry out the government's COVID-19 response," he said.

"While perceptions of workload and health are traditionally low in comparison to other organisational climate factors, overall at the sector level the workload and health factor remained stable."

About one fifth of public sector workers say there is "too much red tape" in their work, one point higher than in 2019.

Despite the concerning bullying and stress results, 78 per cent of public service workers felt empowered by their job during a year of significant change, in which it was not immune to the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown.

Across the public service the number of remote workers grew from 13 per cent in 2019 to 38 per cent in 2020.

Acting Premier Steven Miles said the government workforce had "risen to the challenge" during a tumultuous year.

"The public service, particularly frontline workers like doctors, nurses, ambos, police officers and fireys have worked extremely hard this year during an unprecedented pandemic," he said.

"Other frontline support staff have become new heroes like our public health units, contract tracers and those working on hotel quarantine logistics."


Originally published as Damning survey: 18,000 public service workers bullied