Unite, which represents hundreds of MPs staff, has welcomed today’s (8 February ) publication of a report into tackling the bullying and harassment in parliament as a step in the right direction, but warned that far more must be done to resolve longstanding problems.
The union made its call after the parliamentary working group into bullying and harassment issued its report and tabled the relevant motions which will allow the proposed reforms to be introduced.
A representative of Unite’s parliamentary and constituency staff branch was a member of the working group.
The reports key findings include:
- A new code of behaviour for all staff in parliament and constituencies
- A direct confidential contact in parliament and phone line for reporting allegation of abuse
- Procedures for informal resolutions
- Independent investigators to consider evidence
- Sanctions to be applied by a parliamentary commissioner for standards or, in serious cases, by a reformed standards committee made up of an equal numbers of MPs and lay members
- Sanctions to include apologies, behaviour agreements, compulsory training, suspension from the House and a possible recall vote, dismissal (for staff) or loss of their parliamentary pass
- In cases of sexual harassment access to independent sexual violence advocates
- New independent HR support
- Training, including into employment responsibilities, which will become mandatory.
Despite the clear progress being made, Unite believes that to eradicate the ingrained culture of bullying and harassment which exists in many parts of parliament, further steps urgently need to be taken.
Formal union recognition for all areas of employment remains a key concern. Unless this is in place, Unite’s lay activists will not have vital legal protections when representing members who have made complaints.
It is also essential that the new human resources support system recognises and works with unions to properly address the bullying culture in parliament.
Formal recognition by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) would allow the union to be able to negotiate pay rates, and terms and conditions, which they are currently denied.
Unite does not believe that dignity at work will be achieved in parliament and constituency offices, unless long-term solutions are considered and an expert body such as the conciliation service Acas is brought in to review and reform the existing employment structure.
Unite national officer Siobhan Endean said: “The working group has made real progress into starting to tackle the widespread bullying and harassment of parliamentary staff.
“However, we cannot stand still and believe that everything in the garden will be rosy. We need root and branch reforms, and parliament must modernise its procedures so that its employment practices become fit for the 21st century.
“It is imperative to understand that parliamentary staff are isolated working in small offices, where power relationships are frequently unhealthy and unequal. If informal and formal mechanisms aren’t introduced, which members can access with union support, the ingrained culture of bullying and harassment will continue.
“While the working’s group remit did not include the recognition of trade unions, it is crucial to ensuring that members can receive assistance at an early stage and issues can be quickly and properly resolved, without workers feeling their working lives are a misery and feel forced to resign.”
It is also understood that the working group will continue to meet for at least for a further three months to ensure that the recommendations that it has made are fully implemented. Unite will continue to play a full role on the working group.
Notes to editors:
For more information please contact Unite communications officer Barckley Sumner on 020 3371 2067 or 07802 329235. Email: email@example.com
- 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