Extent of parliamentary bullying revealed as Unite ste...

Extent of parliamentary bullying culture revealed as Unite steps up demands for union recognition

23 November 2017

A confidential survey of members of trade union Unite, employed by MPs and Lords, has revealed the extent of stress and bullying they experience.

The survey undertaken by Unite’s parliamentary and constituency branch found that almost a fifth (19 per cent) of respondents had suffered bullying by either their MP or a line manager.

The toxic working environment was further exposed as 58 per cent of respondents recorded they suffered from stress and the mental health of staff was being damaged with over a third (36 per cent) record that they had anxiety and 17 per cent said they had suffered from depression.

The unequal working relationship was further laid bare as over half (57 per cent) recorded that they work beyond their contracted hours all the time, 53 per cent recorded that their workload had increased in the last year and 88 per cent do not claim overtime.

Unite has revealed the findings of the survey to underline why the union urgently needs formal recognition in order to have the ability to begin to tackle the deeply dysfunctional and unhealthy workplace.

A fortnight ago in a meeting with the prime minister Theresa May, Unite requested her support for the union’s campaign to be formally recognised. Although Mrs May promised to consider the request and reply, there has been no further communication. Unite has now written to all party leaders requesting that they support voluntary recognition of the union.

MPs’ staff are jointly employed by the individual MP and the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA). In a further disturbing development since the harassment bullying crisis broke, IPSA has made no attempt to contact Unite to discuss how staff can be protected. If IPSA voluntarily recognised the union, many of the problems experienced by staff could begin to be properly tackled.

Unite believes the working party formed to tackle the sexual harassment allegations, is likely to agree a quick fix solution which will not solve the chronic employment issues Unite has identified. The MP dominated working group held one meeting last week and was due to meet again today (Tuesday 21 November).

Unite national officer for the not-for-profit sector Siobhan Endean said: “The survey of members demonstrates that in some cases there can be a toxic and dysfunctional relationship between MPs and staff which can cause long-term health problems.

“Bullying and harassment of staff is not a rare incidence. This is not going to be resolved by a quick fix, which sweeps the key issues under the carpet. We need wholesale structural changes which give staff an independent voice.

“The prime minister and the leaders of the political parties need to understand that without formal union recognition, union reps are being hobbled in their attempts to deal with staff problems and in ensuring they are quickly resolved.

“Despite being the official employer of MPs staff, during the sexual harassment and bullying crisis, IPSA has been about as prominent as the invisible man Yet, IPSA has the ability to swiftly recognise Unite and reduce the misery of our members.”

The lack of union recognition means that Unite’s reps do not have an office, facility time (paid time off to assist and represent members) and are denied vital legal protections. For example union representatives have to negotiate unofficial time off to attend meetings of the anti-harassment working group. There is also no requirement to consult the union on changes to pay structures, terms and conditions or anti-bullying policies.

Unite’s parliamentary branch has launched a petition calling for trade union recognition of parliamentary and constituency staff.  

Following the recent plethora of cases of sexual harassment and bullying in Westminster, Unite’s parliamentary branch is now in the process of undertaking a more detailed survey to better understand the full extent of bullying and harassment that staff employed by MPs and Lords experience.


Notes to editors:

For more information please contact Unite communications officer Barckley Sumner on 020 3371 2067 or 07802 329235. Email: 

  • Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.