Complaints Policy



This Policy applies to complaints the ACTU receives about ACTU members of staff and officers by:

  1. ACTU members of staff or officers or
  2. Officers, staff or members of affiliated unions or
  3. Members of the public

and any other complaint made to the ACTU in relation to an officer or staff member of an affiliate.

It is based on the Human Rights Commission Good Practice Guide. The principles of that Guide are incorporated into this policy which is attached. It should be read in conjunction with the ACTU Harassment, Discrimination and Workplace Bullying Policy. The ACTU acknowledges that the resolution or investigation of any complaint must be undertaken in a respectful, trauma informed, culturally safe way particularly for First Nations people so as to avoid distress for complainants, survivors and victims.

The ACTU is committed to dealing with complaints in a timely manner.


Complaints are an expression of dissatisfaction with some aspect of activity or behaviour of the ACTU Officers or a member of staff or officers or staff of an affiliate, where the complainant expects a response or action by the ACTU. An example is where a complaint has been made that a staff member has breached the Discrimination and Harassment policy or the ACTU Code of Conduct. Complaints can be anonymous or from third parties however the ability of the organisation to respond adequately may be severely curtailed.

When complaints involve children, all complaints including those that are anonymous or from a third party will be accepted and mandatory reporting requirements to police or child protection authorities may apply depending on the nature of the allegation.

When a complaint includes allegations of criminal conduct the complainant will be actively supported in obtaining advice and assistance from qualified victim support services ( see attached list). With the complainant’s consent, the complaint should be referred to the police or other investigative agency. Complaints referred to the police or other agency for investigation and prosecution will generally be determined by the outcome of the investigation or court verdict but this will be assessed on a case by case basis. However, where the complainant does not wish to have the matter referred to the police, then this policy shall apply.

Making a Complaint                                                                    

Making a complaint means a Staff Member/Affiliate/Member of the public wants a decision or action of or by the ACTU in relation to their complaint. Where the complaint relates to an officer or staff member of an affiliate that matter will immediately be advised in writing to the Secretary, who will immediately bring the complaint to the attention of the relevant national secretary of the relevant union.

Principles underlying the complaints process

  • Fair – This means that both the person complaining (the complainant) and the person being complained about (the respondent) should have the opportunity to present their version of events, provide supporting information and respond to any potential negative decisions. In addition, the person investigating and/or making decisions about the complaint should be impartial; that is, he or she should not favour the complainant or the respondent or prejudge the complaint in any way.

    The ACTU will not comment on any complaint while it is being investigated or subject to any process or action in relation to a complaint other than to confirm that the policies are being complied with
  • Confidential – This means that information about a complaint is only provided to those people who need to know about it, in order for the complaint to be actioned properly.
  • Transparent – The complaint process including time frames for the process and the possible outcomes of the complaint should be clearly explained and those involved should be kept informed of the progress of the complaint and the reasons for any decisions.
  • Accessible – The complaint process should be easy to access and understand, and everyone should be able to participate equally. For example, a person may require a language interpreter to understand and participate or a person with a disability may need information provided in a specific format.
  • Efficient – The complaint process should be conducted without undue delay. As time passes, information relevant to the complaint may deteriorate or be lost, which will impact on the fairness of the process. In addition, unresolved complaints can have a negative and ongoing impact on a workplace.

The Policy include provisions that:

  • protect employees from being victimised because they have made a complaint
  • protect employees from vexatious and malicious complaints
  • ensure appropriate confidential records are kept about complaints and that this information is stored and managed appropriately. 

Stages in a complaint process

A. Complaints in relation to breaches of the Code of Conduct, Sexual Harassment, Harassment, Discrimination and Workplace Bullying

1. Initial contact point

The ACTU Harassment, Discrimination and Workplace Bullying Policy details how to make a complaint and, identify an initial contact person such as the General Manager. The contact person should not be the same person who is responsible for investigating or making decisions about a complaint.

The following people are designated contact people for the ACTU:

  • The General Manager
  • The Executive Officer

The contact person is:                                                  

  • available to listen to and receive the person’s complaint
  • not form a view of the merit of any allegations
  • provide information about the internal complaint process and the approximate time frames for dealing with a complaint
  • provide information about the appropriate external avenues for complaint e.g. Fair Work Commission (Bullying), Australian Human Rights Commission, state or territory anti- discrimination body, the police
  • advise the person that in some situations where serious allegations are raised – for example, allegations that may expose the organisation to legal liability or where children are involved – the issue may need to be reported and dealt with as a formal complaint
  • where appropriate, provide support for a person if he or she wants to try and resolve the issue personally 
  • provide information about available support services, for example, workplace counselling services, victim’s support services, their union

2. Early resolution

In some situations, it may be appropriate to consider early resolution of an initial complaint without undertaking an assessment of its merit. This approach may be useful where:

  • the complainant indicates a desire to sit down and discuss the matter with the respondent informally and this seems appropriate in the circumstances
  • The complainant does not wish to make the complaint formal or wishes to remain anonymous at this stage
  • the information on hand supports a view that the complaint has arisen from a misunderstanding or miscommunication
  • the behaviour being complained about is not serious and does not appear to be discrimination or harassment, as defined by the organisation’s policy.

Early resolution may involve:

  • a direct private discussion between the complainant and the respondent
  • an impartial third person conveying information between those involved
  • an impartial third person helping those involved to talk to each other and find a solution.

In some situations, the impartial third person may need to be someone external to the organisation, such as a professional mediator.

3. Formal resolution of complaints

If a person wants to proceed with a formal complaint, or if this is considered to be the most appropriate course of action, the following steps will be followed:

a.      Obtain information from the complainant

The Secretary shall appoint an appropriate person to investigate the complaint. The complaint officer can be either an ACTU staff member or an external impartial third person.

The investigator should:

  • provide information about the complaint process including the likely time frames, potential outcomes, options for assistance/support and protections from victimisation
  • ensure the allegations are documented, either by the complainant or the complaint officer
  • explain that the process is confidential, what this means and why it is important
  • explain what records of the complaint will be kept, for how long and where
  • explain the action that may be taken if the complaint is found to be vexatious or malicious
  • ask the complainant to provide relevant documents or details of witnesses that may support the allegations.

Where there is a concern about supporting information being destroyed or compromised, the complaint officer should try to obtain this information before taking any further action.

b. Advise the respondent about the complaint

The complaint officer should:

  • advise the respondent that a complaint has been made against him or her and provide as much information as possible about the allegations and supporting information (where applicable)
  • confirm that he or she will be given the opportunity to respond to the allegations in writing or through an interview
  • provide information about the complaint process, potential outcomes and options for assistance/support
  • explain that the process is confidential, what this means and why it is important
  • explain what records of the complaints will be kept, for how long and where
  • explain that it is unacceptable to victimise someone who has made a complaint.
c. Assess the information

If the respondent confirms that he or she did what is alleged to have occurred, and if this behaviour would be considered inappropriate as defined in the organisation’s policy, the next step is to consider an appropriate outcome (see below). It is recommended that the respondent is provided with the opportunity to comment on any proposed decision and outcome before a recommendation is made to the Secretary. i

If there is disagreement about what happened, the investigator should consider whether there is other information that will help to determine what happened. It is generally understood that the person making the decision should be satisfied that it is ‘more probable than not’ that what is alleged to have happened did happen.

Given the nature of discrimination, bullying, sexual harassment, and harassment, there may often be no direct witnesses or documents to support the complainant’s version of events. This does not mean that the allegation is untrue. In these situations, the complainant should be given the opportunity to comment on the information that has been provided by the respondent and to provide any other information to support his or her allegations before a final decision is made.

4. Outcomes from the process

a. Where the allegations are admitted or substantiated

The Secretary will determine the Outcomes for the respondent may include:

  • disciplinary counselling
  • an official warning
  • a requirement to attend training including discrimination and harassment awareness training
  • a requirement to provide a formal apology to the complainant
  • disciplinary action (e.g., demotion, transfer, suspension, probation or dismissal)
  • participation in mediation to restore relationships in the workplace.

Outcomes for the complainant may include:

  • re-crediting of any leave taken as a result of the discrimination or harassment if the complainant is a member of staff
  • supportive counselling
  • a change in the work environment, as requested, for example, a change in work teams or location
  • participation in mediation to restore relationships in the workplace.

It is important that the complainant is provided with general information about the outcome of a complaint, as this may affect their decision to pursue the matter with an external agency. The level of detail provided should be balanced against the need to respect the privacy of the respondent.

b. Where the allegations are not admitted or substantiated

Where allegations have not been admitted or substantiated, it may still beappropriate to take some action as a result of the complaint. Forexample, it may be appropriate to:

  • provide refresher training for all staff regarding appropriate workplace behaviour, and/or
  • reissue the discrimination and harassment policy or code of conduct to all employees.

If such action is taken, it is important that it is not done in a way which could beseen as singling out or punishing the respondent, especially where there has been nofinding that he or she has breached the organisation’s policy or code of conduct.

5. Complaints against the ACTU Secretary or ACTU President or Assistant Secretaries

When a complaint is made against the ACTU Secretary, the matter shall be referred to the Senior Vice President who will manage the process as set out in this policy.

Where the complaint is about the President or an Assistant Secretary then the Secretary will manage the process as set out in this policy and shall (subject to the agreement of the complainant) advise the Senior Vice President of the matter.

B. Complaints other than complaints in relation to breaches of the Code of Conduct, Sexual Harassment, Harassment, Discrimination and Workplace Bullying.

Where a complaint is made about a matter other than breaches of the code of conduct, sexual harassment, Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying in the Workplace, the above process (with the necessary changes being made) shall apply and shall be read in conjunction with the Dispute Resolution provision of the Staff Agreement.