Senator Craughwell calls for a Seanad Debate on Workplace Bullying
At the Seanad Order of Business on Tuesday 10th March, Senator Gerard Craughwell called for an urgent debate on bullying in the workplace. Senator Craughwell said that despite the HSA’s Code of Practice on the ‘Prevention and Management of Workplace Bullying’ and the existence of ‘Dignity at Work’ policies in most organisations, workplace bullying is increasing and at an alarming rate.
Research has shown that bullying occurs in every workplace. Studies in the UK have found that over 50% of employees claim to have suffered workplace bullying. The effects of bullying on the individual are many; victims of bullying are likely to suffer from psychological and physical health problems ranging from insomnia, nightmares, panic attacks, through to suicidal ideation and suicide.
Senator Craughwell said that while much is being done to tackle bullying in our schools the time has come to tackle the bullying that has moved from the playground to the workplace. He said that he believes that the time has come to turn the spotlight on to this silent epidemic and to make workplace bullying a criminal offence. He highlighted that there is no need for new legislation as we already have the ‘Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997’ and believes that it is high time we used it. Senator Craughwell said that while there are remedies available to the individual though an action for personal injuries these cases are extremely difficult to prosecute. Senator Craughwell says the best way to rid the workplace of this scourge is to use the criminal courts with punitive sanctions against perpetrators.
Many people are unaware of the difference between bullying and robust management. The Health and Safety Authority’s definition for bullying is:
"Bullying is repeated inappropriate behaviour, direct or indirect, whether verbal, physical or otherwise, conducted by one or more persons against another or others, at the place of work and/or in the course of employment, which could reasonably be regarded as undermining the individual‘s right to dignity at work."
Examples of bullying include:
· Purposely undermining someone;
· Targeting someone for special negative treatment;
· Manipulation of an individual‘s reputation;
· Social exclusion or isolation;
· Aggressive or obscene language;
· Jokes that are obviously offensive to one individual by spoken word or email;
· Intrusion by pestering, spying and stalking;
· Unreasonable assignments to duties which are obviously unfavourable to one individual;
· Repeated requests with impossible deadline or impossible tasks
Senator Craughwell agrees that the best way to deal with bullying is to tackle the problem as early and as close to the source of it as possible. However, Craughwell says that victims of a bullying will say that there are two problems with this advice:
· First bullying is often a slow burn and frequently a victim is not aware of the fact s/he is being bullied until it’s too late.
· Secondly by the time the victim recognises the bullying s/he is often psychologically broken with her/his confidence in tatters.
Tackling the problem early is the best advice; however it is difficult to do this without support. Where a workplace is dominated by a bully finding support is very difficult. Frequently colleagues are aware of the bullying but unwilling to become involved as they live in fear that they will be next. As such the victim is usually alone in trying to understand why s/he has been chosen by the bully for this cruel and dehumanising treatment and the only concern is how to escape the pain. All too often the victim takes the path of least resistance by leaving the job leaving the bully to strike again or sadly, in a few cases, the victim takes the ultimate step of ending the pain through suicide.
Senator Craughwell believes that the time has come to criminalise bullying. He also feels that where any working adult takes his/her own life there should be a preliminary investigation to rule out bullying as a contributing factor. Craughwell says he is very concerned at the growing anecdotal evidence of employees being forced to work unpaid or excessive overtime. These practises are occurring in each and every walk of life, from professional practice trainees to trade apprentices. Craughwell says that the growing use of zero hour contracts has provided the bully with the most powerful tool of all times.
Craughwell says bullying is destroying good people, and damaging their personal and family lives. He urges that action be taken now before another life is lost or destroyed.