Dignity at Work

Speech on Dignity at work
John Robertson MP
16th December

Bullying in the workplace is an issue which is all too often ignored – by the individual who is being bullied, in the hope that it will go away and often the employers, who do not believe the issue exists in their workplace.

It is often easier to step back, to say it is really none of my business, or just to pretend it isn’t really doing any damage and anyway the person being bullied should be able to stand up for themselves.  We all know this is not the case.

Before the last General Election there was an all party parliamentary group on Dignity at Work set up to raise awareness and tackle the problem of bullying in the workplace and to campaign for a dignity at work act.  When the group’s secretary unfortunately lost her seat in the last election the group decided to merge with another all party group and became the bullying and workplace violence all party group.

Dignity at work is a very polite way of saying many employees are treated very badly.  Bullying takes place not only in schools but in thousands of work places and on a daily basis.

Could I ask you to be very honest and indicate by a show of hands how many in this audience has been subjected to an instance of bullying?  How many people here to day have been aware of a colleague or friend being the subject of bullying?  How many did something about it or how many just walked away?

Everyone accepts bullying is totally unacceptable, but as I said often we ignore it.  It comes in many different forms and the effect on the individual can be devastating.  It can be harassment, direct and indirect discrimination, and victimisation.

It can damage individuals’ confidence, morale, motivation and sometimes their health, causing them to be less productive and effective at work. Bullying can come in the form of actual physical violence, threats of violence, name calling, sarcasm and teasing, amongst others.
Bullying that doesn’t include physical abuse can be just as hard to deal with and is often more hurtful than actually being punched or kicked.  Bullying is not just a one off thing.  In a survey, commissioned by the Andrew Adams Trust and Digital Opinion, research showed that around half of the 3235 victims of bullying had been bullied for over a year and 23 per cent had been bullied for around 6 to 12 months.

The facts and figures of bullying in the workplace have probably already been mentioned during the course of today’s conference however I think it is important that we reiterate it:

It is estimated that one in five employees have been a victim of bullying or harassment at work in the last two years.  Statistics show that ethnic minorities, women and disabled employees are more likely to face some form of bullying.  29 per cent of Asian employees or those from other ethnic groups said they had experienced some form of bullying or harassment, compared to 18 per cent of white employees. Some 37 per cent of employees with disabilities said they had come up against bullying, compared with 18 per cent of non-disabled people.

The issue of bullying and also violence in the workplace is frequently raised in Parliament through adjournment debates, Westminster Hall debates, Early Day Motions, and Parliamentary Questions.  It was first introduced through a private members bill in the House of Lords in 1996 by Lord Monkswell and again in 2001 by Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen.  The issue was then raised in the Commons in 2003 in the Employment Bill debate.
We, as Parliamentarians, must continue to raise the issue of bullying and violence in the workplace on the floor of the House.

Legislation has come a long way since 1996.  The Government has brought in Acts of Parliament which protect employees through the age, race and sex discrimination acts, but there is much more to do.  Sweden is at present the only European country to have legislation on bullying so we know it is not impossible to legislate against bullying.

I have said before, in a contribution to a Westminster hall, debate that the protection from harassment act is based on discrimination, but litigation can be pursued only on the grounds of race, gender or disability.

This excludes employees who are harassed and bullied for other reasons.  Studies have found that much of the bullying that takes place is targeted at confident employees, those successful in their jobs, who are seen as a threat to the perpetrators.  It happens all too often that as new legislation is introduced, bullies change their focus to remain outside the law.  Studies show that currently only 2 per cent of bullying cases make it to employment tribunals and only around 0.5 per cent of the cases receive compensation.
Bullying is rife across UK organisations according to new research from the Chartered Management Institute. The survey, which questioned 512 executives in public and private sector organisations, revealed that many senior managers are victims of bullying and identifies psychological intimidation as the biggest problem. The research also shows an alarming lack of awareness about dealing with workplace bullies. ‘Bullying at work: the experience of managers’, published in association with public sector union UNISON and the conciliation service ACAS, found that 39 per cent of all managers have been bullied in the past three years.
Middle managers are the most bullied amongst the UK management population, with half of them (49 per cent) having suffered. A lack of management skills is cited as the top reason (66 per cent) for bullying in the workplace. Levels of bullying appear to be higher in public sector organisations than in any areas of the private sector, according to the survey.

Today is a welcome opportunity to highlight, again, bullying, the different forms of bullying, the effects of bullying and hopefully what we can all do about the unacceptable behaviour of those who inflict misery on individuals because they are in charge or manage the person they are bullying

Although there are many Acts of Parliament which protect employees, there is no specific legislation in place dealing with workplace violence.  I know that many of the trade unions and organisations have been campaigning for the dignity at work act.  Connect, the union for professionals in communications, and the union with whom I have close contact, are a vocal supporter in the call for this legislation.

I am delighted that Amicus, one of the unions that has been a leading the fight for action on workplace bullying.
The commitment from the Department for Trade and industry that the government would make almost £1m available for a project to tackle workplace bullying and discrimination is a great opportunity to highlight the need for tougher action against bullying and bullies.
This commitment is approximately half the required estimated £1.8m project’s funding and will come from the DTI’s Strategic Partnership Fund, which helps strengthen employer-employee relationships and improve business performance.
It is great that Amicus and 10 employers, including BAE Systems whose naval base is located in my constituency, have supported this commitment and I am pleased it will be rolled out to 180 more employers.   The project will provide support, advice and training to organisations trying to deal with bullying, by training employees as counsellors and investigators and promoting a voluntary charter on ‘dignity at work’ and good practice.
Bullying, says the Health & Safety Executive, accounts for up to £2 billion in lost revenue every year. It also results in poor morale and productivity and higher staff turnover.
The TUC estimated that UK business loses an estimated 18 million working days a year through the effects of workplace bullying. “But although bullying can destroy lives and have a damaging effect upon workplace morale, the overwhelming majority of employers seem unable to stop bullies in their tracks.
Self regulation and the lack of real understanding is not enough.  One of the worst forms of bullying is employers who cheat their employees out of what they are entitled to.  By this I mean the minimum wage.  The minimum wage was a fantastic commitment by the Government and everyone knows it is illegal to pay below £5.35, yet it still happens.  The Chancellor announced in his Pre Budget Report last week that the Government will double their resources to tackle those who continue to cheat their employees.

The Government’s commitment in improving employment legislation over the last 10 years should be commended.  Not only do we now have a minimum wage but we also have the part-time workers directive and an increase in maternity pay, and for the first time paid paternity leave.  These have all had a hugely successful influence in tackling the issue of unfair treatment of employees and have improved working conditions for employees.
Tackling bullying in the workforce cannot be done by Government alone and that is why it is great to see unions and other organisations getting involved.  Nothing will be achieved unless everyone works together with Government, no matter what colour.

The Government has taken steps to introduce legislation on many forms of bullying and campaigns by unions have been successful in highlighting the issues.  Businesses and workplaces should offer more to victims of bullying.  Survey results showed that only 25 per cent of the people interviewed knew what their organisation was doing to deal with the issue.

The Department for Education and Skills works hard on the issue of bullying in schools, working on anti-bullying strategies, through anti-bullying weeks, campaigns, advice for parents, teachers and children.
It has worked positively in schools so there is scope for this to extend to workplaces and communities.
As I have mentioned earlier, everyone would benefit from tougher action against bullies.  Individuals would be happier and more content in their workplace if they didn’t feel intimidated and worried about bullying.  Businesses and organisations would find they could be far more productive if their employees weren’t off ill due to bullying and the UK economy would not lose a significant amount of money each year through associated stress-related illnesses.
It was particularly great to see NHS Employers launch a campaign last year on tackling bullying.  National Ban Bullying at Work Day was held on 7 November 2005 and again in 2006, and their message was strong and clear.  Bullying needs to be taken seriously by employers and employees alike and is totally unacceptable.  It is important to have more of these campaigns, and more seminars like today’s to keep this issue at the front of the agenda.
I will continue to raise the issue in Parliament and encourage my colleagues to do the same.  Thank you again for the opportunity to speak to day and I hope following this conference we will act whenever or wherever we see bullying taking place and of course I would be delighted to take any questions.

One Response to “Dignity at Work”

  1. I am delighted to see so much work has been done with regards to bullying in the workplace over many years but saddened that there is still no Dignity at Work Act. If there was I would still be in the teaching profession which I loved but had to take early retirement after 25 years because of organisational bullying by the Local Authority. I was an Acting Head Teacher and defended the school and staff against changes the LA were planning. Their changes would have resulted in staff redundancies and the school budget would have been harmed as they wanted to make the school admission number smaller while expanding another local school. My job was to protect our school and staff. I provided a great deal of many strong arguments backed up with data. One of them being that only 2 schools in the area were rated as good, the others were satisfactory, including the school that the LA were planning to expand. Our school was rated as good by Ofsted. After I sent these arguments to council, an LA officer lied about our standards. LA officers would not meet with me. I informed council about the inaccurate information LA officers were providing. Many weeks after that, 2 weeks prior to the interview for the substantive headship post which I had been shortlisted for, I was threatened with a solicitor regarding ‘a letter’ in front of the Chair of Governors. This threat was made by the Assistant Director of Children’s services. The assistant director had no letter with him, nor could say what was in the letter. I was so shocked and because there was no evidence the assistant director presented at the meeting, I could not defend myself. This was clearly to demean me in front of the Chair of Governors and to bring into question my professionalism. The Assistant Director had set me up to fail at the interview. The LA officer who had lied about our standards was ‘supporting’ the governors in the interview process. I have a great deal of evidence which shows that she manipulated the outcome of the interview. I have gone through all the correct procedures but nobody was prepared to shoulder their responsibilities. After 6 months of being sick with stress and high blood pressure, I took early retirement. I am now involved with a national campaign agency and am heading a campaign on employment.

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