Call for review of procedures to deal with bullying

 

Public Service Executive Union's conference: Improved procedures to deal with bullying and sexual harassment in the civil service were demanded at a union conference at the weekend.

Members of the Public Service Executive Union said it takes several years for victims' complaints to be processed and that staff appointed to investigate cases are not adequately trained.

Motions calling for a review of existing procedures and for more resources to deal with the problem were unanimously passed at the union's annual conference in Tralee, Co Kerry.

One conference delegate, Mr Michael Cummins, of the Valuation Office/Ordnance Survey branch, said he had been a victim of bullying and knew of the effects "because I've suffered them". They included stress, anxiety, depression, self-doubt, shame, exhaustion, insecurity, nightmares, sleeplessness, embarrassment, guilt and obsessive thinking.

He said if a victim was a member of a team, and was being bullied by another member of staff and made a complaint, the reaction of management was to remove the victim from the team and the section they were working in.

"You are removed from the team and you have to rely on your colleagues to come forward during the investigation and tell what they have seen. What would you do in their position? The victim is gone; they have to work with the bully or stay neutral. This is my experience." There was a need, he said, for staff appointed as investigators to be professionally trained by an organisation with expertise in the area. "In my case, I asked if the person appointed to investigate was trained. I was told, and I quote: 'No, but he is the right grade'."

The conference heard that at least four cases of bullying or harassment were currently being investigated within the social welfare inspectors' section of the Department of Social and Family Affairs. Ms Margaret Quane, who works in the section, said one of the complaints was made in March 2000 and was still being processed.

"Bullying itself is probably not a major issue in our department, but the procedure involved in dealing with a complaint of bullying is." In its Human Resource Strategy 2003-2005, the Department had committed itself to "vigorously" enforcing the civil service policy on bullying and sexual harassment, under which "every employee has the right to work in an environment free from those forms of behaviour", she said.

"This aspiration bears little relationship to the experience of social welfare inspectors who have made bullying complaints. Policy statements or glossy information leaflets mean absolutely nothing unless there is a commitment to deal appropriately or speedily with bullying complaints."

Mr Pat McCrea, of the union's executive, said the department had failed to implement its own guidelines in any of the four cases referred to by Ms Quane.

One of the problems was that investigators who had been trained to deal with cases saw this as an ancillary part of their job - "they will do it if they have the time".

"It is stressful for both parties when cases are ongoing for years, when it should be done in a matter of months or, if the guidelines are followed, even weeks."