Perth Zoo has had a shaky-ass year, if the headlines are anything to go by. First there was the story of the baby meerkat that vanished in September after a visitor “scooped” it up and stuffed it into his bag, as reported by the ABC. Then that same month two critically endangered tortoises that had gone missing in 2011 were found at private residences in Perth, confirming that they had, in fact, been stolen, according to Fairfax.
Now, the reason behind the zoo’s glaring security issues and overall staff incompetence may have been revealed, as new information suggests the keepers are getting loose on the job.
A staff survey, conducted in February by the Public Sector Commission and recently obtained by The West Australian, found that nearly one in five Perth Zoo employees had witnessed “illicit drug use and/or alcohol intoxication” while at work. The results of the survey further indicated that one in six workers had witnessed discrimination, harassment, sexual assault, or other indecent behaviour on site, and that almost a third of the zoo’s staff had seen careless or negligent behaviour in the performance of work duties by peers.
The State Government has since announced that, as of early next year, workers at the zoo will be subjected to random drug and alcohol tests. The new policy is reportedly being implemented to “ensure the ongoing health and safety of employees, volunteers, and contractors”—particularly within a workplace that requires them to deal with dangerous animals and operate heavy machinery. Given that zoo staff are quite literally the gatekeepers to a menagerie of exotic and deadly beasts, community and visitor safety is also of some concern.
The idea hasn’t gone down too well with the unions, however, who are concerned that the drug tests will be a wanton and unnecessary violation of people’s privacy.
“If an agency wants to introduce random alcohol and drug testing, our question would be why,” said Community and Public Sector Union acting branch secretary Rikki Hendon. “There needs to be a very compelling rationale such as a workplace safety concern for this sort of intrusion into people’s privacy.
“Unless there are significant safety issues around the work they do, general public sector workers do not require alcohol and drug testing.”
Western Australian Environment Minister Stephen Dawson stood behind the decision, but conceded that some of the questions in the staff survey could have been open to interpretation and the data may therefore be misleading.
“In particular, questions posed to staff about whether or not they had witnessed illicit drug use, intoxication, discrimination, harassment, sexual assault or other discriminatory behaviour at work do not qualify whether or not that behaviour was exhibited by another staff member or members of the public,” he said. “I know that I have been at the zoo and seen visitors drinking alcohol and some who might have had one too many. I will be writing to the Public Sector Commissioner to ask her to clarify the questions in future surveys.
“In line with existing practices at the department, the zoo is introducing random testing for a range of illicit drugs and alcohol to be absolutely certain that everyone is fit for work.”