Today in the BBC news we hear about bullying within the police. In a report by the former top civil servant at the Home Office, Sir David Normington and in a follow up inquiry, M.P’s heard alarming allegations of bullying and unprofessional conduct. The report stated that the federation’s former Chairman, Paul McKeever, who died in office, was the victim of a systematic campaign of abuse, as was his successor, Steve Williams. An email drafted by Mr. Williams stated, “We all saw what happened to our friend and colleague, Paul McKeever and with a young family I do not intend to let the same thing happen to me.”
M.P. Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home affairs Committe, said, ” When you hear stories that the national leadership has been indulging in rival acts of bullying, that is simply not acceptable.”
From my previous blogs, you will have read about victims of bullying being nurses, teachers, soldiers, priests and now the police.
Although all of the stories have involved people working in the public sector, there are many victims who work in the private sector who suffer the same fate at the hands of the perpetrators of bullying. Everybody is appalled at the treatment victims suffer and the harm it causes to the individuals as well as the economy, yet still the Government has done nothing.
Let’s be reminded of the reason why Baroness Gibson presented the Dignity at Work Bill.
Baroness Gibson stated in Parliament, on 27 March 2002 when she presented the Dignity at Work Bill, that the aim of the Bill was to counteract bullying at work and to enshrine good practice into law.
“The Bill attempts to be fair to both employees and employers. In an ideal world, it would not be necessary. All employers would be good ones and would already have policies and practices in place which would prevent bullying in the workplace. But this is not an ideal world and employers are not all good ones. This Bill aims to correct those who are not.
Bullying is not a new phenomenon, but it is only in recent years that it has been identified and rightly recognised as a workplace issue. As Angela Ishmael wrote in her excellent book, Harassment, Bullying and Violence at Work, published by the Industrial Society: As employers move towards creating and maintaining a healthy working climate as a corporate priority, bullying and its effects have leaked through the organisations like a crack in a wall”. Bullying is undoubtedly a great problem faced by many British workers. It affects all kinds of workplaces. I have known cases of bullying on the shop floor and in the office; in the voluntary sector, telecommunications, retail, catering, engineering, finance and insurance, the health service, manufacturing, universities and schools and the Prison Service. You name the workplace and bullying can be found. It is a very destructive force.
It is difficult to put a concrete figure on the number of workers bullied, but an NOP poll conducted for a TUC conference on bullying at work suggested that a staggering 5 million working people in the UK had either been bullied in the past or were currently experiencing bullying. Of course bullying does not only have an adverse effect on employees. Employers are also affected by it. Bullying at work costs businesses in employee absenteeism through ill health and lost effectiveness. Professor Cary Cooper of UMIST, an acknowledged expert in the field, has estimated that 40 million working days are lost each year because of bullying. In financial terms, this puts the cost to industry at £3 billion to £4 billion annually. On top of that, it brings to the workplace low morale, poor working relationships and a general depression of spirit. That is hardly conducive to high productivity and quality standards. Bullying blights lives and causes immense and acute suffering and stress.
In the course of the debate, we may be told that there are laws which adequately cover bullying at work. As a former trade union official, I would dispute that emphatically. In the past the UK Parliament has not focused on providing statutory protection against bullying at work. Instead it has concentrated on discrimination. That is fine when it comes to sex or race. But the laws covering sex and race do not adequately cover bullying. It is true that cases can be taken under the Sex Discrimination Act or Race Relations Act. But the great weakness here is that most cases of bullying cannot be shown to amount to sexual or racial harassment and therefore this legislation is not effective in that case.
On the face of it, the health and safety Act can be used by those facing workplace bullying. But again that Act does not specifically mention bullying. It concentrates on the, health, safety and welfare at work of all employees”— a much vaguer concept.
As I know from my years as a health and safety commissioner, the Act is rarely found to be effective for bullying cases. Indeed, because there is no specific law relating to bullying or harassment in the non-sexist or non-racist sense, the only way for an employee to proceed to an employment tribunal because of bullying is to resign from his or her work and bring a claim of breach of contract under the heading of constructive dismissal. That cannot be a just and proper way for an employee to have to proceed in this day and age.
The current laws are not only inadequate for the employee, they also expose employers to a wide range of liabilities without providing the legal tools or guidance to deal with potential bullying problems before they become serious. The existing laws do not help employers to deal with the problem of bullying in the workplace. At best they can provide only a certain financial compensation to an employee who by then has lost his or her health, job or both.
I can best illustrate the absurdity and ambivalence of the law by telling the House of the experiences of two members of my previous union. A young man and a young woman worked in a London teaching hospital. Both received appalling treatment at the hands of their male supervisor by whom they were constantly undermined and their lives made a misery. The young woman’s bullying and denigration also included unwanted sexual advances. At the same time, the supervisor embarked on a campaign to humiliate and reduce the standing of the young man by a series of mean and malevolent acts.
They both went to the same internal appeal. The young woman was held to have been sexually harassed and the young man to have been bullied. Both sustained substantial financial losses as well as suffering emotionally. The young woman was advised that she had a sex discrimination claim which she lodged and eventually settled out of court. The young man had no legal basis for a claim and received no effective remedy for his very similar experiences. He would have had to leave his job had he wished to claim constructive dismissal, as I explained earlier. I believe that that highlights graphically why a new law is needed. If the Bill had been in place, both could have presented bullying cases and both could have received their just rewards.
The Dignity at Work Bill supplements existing employment legislation enabling employers to send a clear message to all their staff that dignity at work must be respected and, if they act quickly and fairly, avoid claims and resolve issues in a way that promotes better workplace relationships and higher morale.”
Do you not think it is about time that bullying was made illegal. It is very clear to me and many others, particularly the victims, that there is no satisfactory law in place to protect individuals from such hideous acts of bullying in the workplace.
Support the campaign to introduce legislation to protect workers against workplace bullying.