15 March 2008

Sydney Morning Herald

Article by Linton Besser Transport Reporter

Whistleblower's life in ruins

RAILCORP has spent almost $300,000 in a three-year legal battle against an employee who blew the whistle on corruption and fraud. Now it is appealing against the $16,000 in compensation she was awarded by the courts for unfair dismissal.

Midway through 2002, as a revenue protection officer, Bimla Chand told management about serial timesheet fraud and an overtime scam that may have cost the organisation thousands of dollars. For this the 48-year-old single woman says she was subjected to years of harassment and bullying by colleagues.

The final act of humiliation, however, was her dismissal in 2005, on what the courts later deemed were spurious psychiatric grounds.

After tax, Ms Chand was to receive $11,381 from RailCorp when the Australian Industrial Relations Commission ruled in December she had been wrongly dismissed.

But now RailCorp has appealed to recoup this amount in an act Ms Chand believes is emblematic of an organisation bent on silencing its critics.

"With all the talk from politicians about whistleblower protection, blowing the whistle has ruined my life," she said. "State Rail not only wants to bury me, they want to dance on my grave for daring to speak out."

Some of Ms Chand's allegations have been given new currency by a lengthy investigation by the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Evidence during public hearings has described a culture of claiming pay for unworked periods in a widespread scam known within the organisation as "job and knock".

RailCorp has used the law firm Clayton Utz for this matter and a discrimination case Ms Chand brought in the Administrative Decisions Tribunal.

Since March 2005 RailCorp has spent $291,612.77 in legal fees on the unfair dismissal case alone. It is unclear how many thousands more it has spent on her discrimination claim.

"I was just so angry and disappointed. My returning [to work] would have cost a 10th of the $300,000 they have spent," she said.

Last October the Administrative Decisions Tribunal dismissed Ms Chand's discrimination case. It decided that several incidents she described fell outside court time limitations.

She has appealed, and a decision on her appeal is due within the next few months.

Ms Chand's lawyer, Michael Vassili, said the chronology of both cases was all about "shooting the messenger".

"The evidence shows that they spend very little effort in dealing with the accusations of corruption. This is highly unusual. There is no commercial reason they would embark on the appeal. It fits squarely within Bimla's claim of being victimised because she was whistleblower. The decision to appeal is obviously a decision based on politics."

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