Tougher work-bully code wanted
Nearly one in five workers say they've been bullied at work and the country will soon have its first set of government guidelines on workplace standards.
The Business, Innovation and Employment Ministry's labour group is currently consulting with a variety of agencies to create a best-practice guideline.
But a group of academics, the Healthy Work Group, is calling for a more formal approach - either a code of practice that key stakeholders would agree to abide by, or amended legislation.
Massey University's Bevan Catley said the current legislative framework did not allow for workplace bullying to be dealt with effectively and the problem continued to grow as a result.
New Zealand was lagging behind Australia, Northern Europe and Britain, which had all addressed or planned to address bullying by developing codes or amending their legislation, Mr Catley said.
A number of cases involving bullying at work had thrust a spotlight on the need for tighter regulation, he said.
Auckland Council has said it will be paying compensation to some of its staff after they were bullied, and Burger King is investigating a complaint from a worker this week that she was punched at an Auckland store.
"The issues of cyber-bullying and bullying at school gets a lot of attention, but bullying in the workplace goes under the radar," Mr Catley said.
"It's completely unacceptable - but until we give both employers and the courts the tools to deal with it more effectively, the problem will continue to grow.”
Though research into workplace bullying in New Zealand was in its infancy, studies had suggested that about 18 per cent of employees had experienced some form of bullying at work.
A code of practice would have “more punch” to it than a set of guidelines, but the Healthy Work Group was pleased that the labour group was doing something to address the issue, Mr Catley said. The guidelines would be a benchmark for the Employment Relations Authority and Employment Court to refer to, he said.
They would also provide advice to employers on how to identify and prevent bullying and advise employees on what actions they could take if they were a victim, a labour group spokeswoman said.
Business NZ chief executive Phil O'Reilly welcomed the guidelines, but said a code of practice would be going too far.
“It's very important that the sort of things that happen in a workplace are handled in the context of what else is happening in the workplace . . . The problem with a code is it won't take into account these differences.”
Existing legislation should be able to efficiently handle more serious bullying allegations of sexual misconduct or violence, he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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