Praise for shifting burden of bullying
Proposed changes to health and safety legislation that puts the burden of bullying on to employers will be a major shift in law and has won the praise of bullying advocates.
The changes would make up part of reforms which would apply across all levels of employment and activities.
Allan Halse blew the whistle on workplace bullying at Hamilton City Council and in March launched Culture Safe New Zealand to combat bullying in the workplace.
Yesterday, he held an information seminar at Wintec where more than 40 people turned out to listen to how bullying affects victims, businesses and what was going to be done about it.
"If I was an employer, I would be updating myself really quickly because they are at serious risk. They have managed to get away with being complacent around this issue for a long time."
Once a bullying complaint was lodged, it became an employment issue and Halse said a lot of organisations often trivialised the matter instead of creating a safe working environment.
"They just demean from what is actually a serious issue into something else."
Under the bill, anyone conducting a business or undertaking would have to manage the causes of bullying and eliminate, isolate or minimise the risk.
"When I was first told about the changes to the act I was really heartened because I do have a health and safety background," he said. Halse had formerly worked in the rail industry where physical risks were apparent. "If there was a threat of accident or injury to an employee, we had the power to stop things. So for somebody with that background to see somebody bullied and see the mental harm it was causing and being powerless to do something about it, it was really bad."
Halse's advocacy business has seen more than 100 new clients through the doors. More than 90 per cent were from the public sector, but he said that would be from the sheer number of government employees and funded bodies. Whitfield Braun litigation lawyer Chontelle Climo, who worked with Halse, said the proposed changes affected all industries from forestry, transport and manufacturing. While there were no specific laws to combat bullying, she said they would be encapsulated in the act's new framework. Proposed changes would allow for personal grievances to be brought against an employer.
Independent film-maker, columnist and radio DJ Paul Barlow said the reforms couldn't come soon enough. "Anything that gives more power to the employee to take action to stop this sort of thing from happening is a step in the right way."