“Nowhere near sufficient” – unions react to working group into bullying in Parliament

Unions have said the report of the working group into bullying and harassment in Parliament, has made some helpful recommendations but much more progress will be needed to address the problems experienced by staff.

Yesterday’s statement by Andrea Leadsom revealed limited progress by the working group, with the following recommendations:

  • the temporary establishment of qualified sexual harassment support and guidance services
  • the establishment of a helpline for staff to seek support if they are experiencing bullying or harassment
  • the creation of a cross parliamentary human resources function accessible to staff
  • new training for MPs and staff, which will be used to prevent bullying and harassment

But Unite, which represents hundreds of MPs’ staff employed in both Parliament and constituency offices, believes the reforms, while a limited step forward, are nowhere near sufficient in terms of establishing a dignity at work strategy and end the culture of bullying and sexual harassment which has been found to be rife.

The union’s key concern is that the working group should recommend that the cross-Parliament human resources function would recognise and work with the union to address the deep problems with the bullying culture in Parliament.

Formal union recognition would give Unite’s lay activists legal protections to work on behalf of and represent members in complaints procedures; secure participation in negotiations concerning bullying and harassment and guarantee both facility time and a space in order to speak to members with appropriate confidentiality.

Unite believes dignity at work will not be achieved unless long-term solutions are considered. In particular, Unite has recommended that ACAS or another expert body are recruited to review the entire staff employment structure.

Unite is entirely opposed to the establishment of a special bicameral select committee to progress this work in the new year. This is an industrial issue and select committees primarily entrench MPs and Peers in the decision-making process. Staff members are already entirely out-numbered on the working group, which has limited its progress. A special select committee would entirely alienate the staff from the process.

Unite national officer Siobhan Endean said: “There needs to be a long term dignity at work strategy in place with staff involvement at the heart of the strategy. Unless staff have a collective voice, and have the confidence that they will be listened to, the bullying culture will prevail.

“Until there is formal union recognition then Unite activists continue to have at least one arm tied behind their backs as they try to tackle the sexual harassment and bullying faced by members on an all too regular basis.

“Parliamentary staff operate in small offices where there are unequal and unhealthy power relationship between them and MPs. Unless there are entirely robust informal and formal mechanisms in place, with members able to access union support, problems of bullying and harassment will continue.

“Unite warned when the working group was created that unless staff were involved in the working group and their views were taken seriously it would be unable to resolve the problems of staff. This is still the case. A special select committee made up of solely MPs to further progress these matters would be entirely unacceptable.”

The NUJ, which has been involved in the cross-party working group in Parliament tasked with addressing reports of bullying, harassment and sexual harassment, welcomed the announcement, strongly supporting the creation of a new overarching framework to tackle abuse at work. In particular, the union welcomed the commitment to offer HR support, starting immediately, and the commitment to increase the provision of training.

The NUJ is pleased that cross-party Parliamentarians have acknowledged and taken responsibility for the culture of bullying and sexual harassment which pervades parliament as a workplace.

But the union is very disappointed that the working group has not made further commitments today as part of the programme of immediate work. The long-term proposals that have been announced should be implemented urgently.

Everyone – be it staff, MPs, Lords, journalists, or stakeholders – deserves to be treated with respect at work, able to carry out their work in a safe environment free from all forms of bullying and harassment.

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “Putting in place independent mechanisms to tackle bullying and harassment in Parliament is an essential step towards instilling a culture of mutual respect in the workplace.

“We know that the peculiar power structures that exist in Parliament have played a role in incidents of bullying and sexual harassment. That is why, if victims are to have faith in reporting a grievance, it must be independent and respected by all the political parties. In order to be effective, the new measures outlined today must be implemented and adhered to.

“The union wants the working group to reconvene again as soon as possible in the new year in order to ensure that parliamentarians make swift progress on promises made about implementing the new proposals.

“Health and safety at work is a legal and moral right. Parliament cannot operate outside of these principles. Implementing robust procedures is only the first step in attempting to change the endemic bullying and harassment culture that has existed, further work must remain a top priority in order to tackle the problems coherently and effectively.”

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