Workplace bullying just as prevalent as domestic violence, according to forum

Director of CultureSafe NZ, Allan Halse, held a forum at the Hamilton Lake on Sunday to discuss the prevalence of ...
MIKE SCOTT/FAIRFAX NZ.

Director of CultureSafe NZ, Allan Halse, held a forum at the Hamilton Lake on Sunday to discuss the prevalence of workplace bullying in New Zealand.

A woman who won an employment case against her former employer for unjustified dismissal, said workplace bullying was just as prevalent as domestic violence.

Robyn Hutchison spoke at the CultureSafe Workplace Summit in Hamilton on Sunday, and said at least one in five people experience workplace bullying.

"Bullying is learned behaviour and like domestic violence it can be unlearned," she said.

"There are many reasons why this 'workplace train' called bullying has not be stopped before now, but without doubt, one of the most prevalent of these is the reluctance of people in general to stand up and speak out."

Hutchison was employed by the Nelson City Council in May 2011 and was dismissed seven months later.

The judge found her dismissal was unjustified and that the council's actions throughout the process in 2011 were "procedurally and substantially flawed". 

She has become an active promoter of employees taking a stand.

"You and I are either part of the solution or we're part of the problem," Hutchison said.

There were eight people on the panel, including Karen Hammond who won a record $168,000 payout after taking her former employer to court and Hamilton woman Ella Newman, whose was forced to resign after being the target of sexual and physical harassment by her former boss.

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One in five at risk of workplace bullying

CultureSafe director Allan Halse said conversations like this needed to happen.

"It's about these conversations that will bring about change, it's a problem.

"I'm a simple person. I'll deal with what I can deal with, it's about keeping momentum and keeping the pressure on."

CultureSafe has had a significant impact on workplace bullying awareness in the last 18 months and Halse recently featured in a Prime TV documentary called Bullies.

The former Hamilton City Council staff member, said trying to raise awareness about bullying in the workplace is like running a marathon.

"Like I said, I can run a marathon and I'm also an amazingly optimistic person, despite what I do," he said.

"I believe you can influence people, there are laws about workplace bullying, so there's the Health and Safety Act, this is what I have focussed on.

"I hardly ever engage with anyone who deals with the employment relations authority because to me it's not relevant to workplace bullying."

Halse said there is a massive amount of energy going in to changing the Health and Safety Act because the New Zealand government understands that a lot of workplaces are unsafe.

"I remember when the WorkSafe New Zealand released guidelines for managing workplace bullying and I was so disappointed in the response by lawyers and employers," he said.

"This issue and what we've got to convince people is that the emotional and mental harm is as dangerous to the workplace and to New Zealand society as physical harm is.

"To get them to realise they're the same thing, and part of that is [already] happening.

"I've been around industrial relations for over 40 years and this is the first time that they'd been a direct link by a government agency of workplace bullying to the health and safety act as a serious hazard."

Halse said bullying does not discriminate and he urged people to be aware of bullying in the workplace.

"I suppose it's one of the few things in the world where there is no discrimination. Everybody suffers equally."

 - Stuff

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