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Bullying, it has to stop

Over the weekend, the Deputy Prime Minster resigned as a result of an enquiry that found he had a case to answer on bullying charges.

This is one of the most publicly visible stories showing the endemic occurrence of bullying within the workplace and the consensus of tolerance of such behaviour. Raab’s failure to apologise is symptomatic of an attitude pervasive within British management. He thinks he did nothing wrong and there will be many managers who agree. There is no excuse, the trade union movement and the law have developed definitions of bullying.

Bullying includes: offensive, intimidating, malicious, or insulting behaviour; abuse of authority which violates the dignity of an individual or a group of people; creating a hostile environment against an individual; and the undermining, humiliation or injury of an individual.

Our branch President has commented on his blog on the affair; the most important lesson for us as workers and trade unionists is that it’s all too easy to forget the genuine hurt and harm that bullying can cause and we too often forget that it’s designed to be hurtful. As human beings we should have sympathy with the victims and be robust in condemning and punishing the perpetrators. It remains too easy

Another legal route, other than to Tribunal might be to sue the employer for a breach of health and safety, although evidence of causality is difficult to obtain. I am unclear of the legal precedents for this pursuit, but I am advised that’s at least one trade union law firm has a very low assessment of the likelihood of winning. The best defence against known bullies with management air-cover, is a strong union, with a recognition agreement that threatens industrial action.

The referral to the parliamentary standards commissioner should be supported. It is highly unusual for acts of bullying to be held to account. As a trade union rep who has on numerous occasions helped people make grievances against bullies, sadly my success rate in these cases is not high. British workplaces need a change in management culture and a change in the law. Bullying should be criminalised, and the Bribery Act makes it an offence for a company to fail to stop ‘improper behaviour’, perhaps we should pass such a law for bullying.

As for the Tories attempt to rewrite the ministers’ codes of behaviour, this article in the guardian covers the issue well .You would have thought that the Tories would have learned that changing the rules after the event rarely has a successful outcome. Just look Boris Johnson and Owen Patterson. Sadly, the guardian article uses language that locates the dysfunction in the context of government. Senior civil servants are not the only victims of bullying, and while the FDA’s intervention has been important and useful. Allowing the FDA to lead on this issue makes it easy to turn this into a government versus civil service issue.  It is not, PCS needs to wake up as do we. This is an issue for all workers.

My union, the GMB , has debated this at several Congresses over the last five years. I shall be writing to Officers asking them to support the referral to the parliamentary standards commissioner and to support a rewriting of the law so that everyone can be protected from management bullying and that managers learn that bullying has bad consequences for those that perpetrate it and those that collude with it.

Posted: 25th April 2023

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