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Advisory Group: Workplace Bullying is a Growing Problem in Ireland

An advisory group that was tasked to study workplace bullying in Ireland has concluded in a recent report that bullying on the job is a growing problem and that all businesses should be required to establish procedures for dealing with bullying.

The advisory group was established in August 2004 to report to Ireland's Minister for Labour Affairs Tony Killeen on the effectiveness of workplace bullying prevention measures, the identification of improvements in procedures and ways to reduce workplace stress caused by bullying.

In its report to Killeen, which was published in August, the advisory group concludes that:

  • Workplace bullying in Ireland is an increasing problem. Whether this is due to an actual increase in cases of workplace bullying or to an increasing awareness of the unacceptability of bullying behavior is not clear. However, the end result is the same increased numbers of complaints, higher levels of workplace stress, frustration with the lack of formal channels for resolving bullying complaints and an increased burden on all parties to resolve disputes.
  • Workplace bullying is not a "normal" industrial relations issue.
  • Existing measures to tackle the problem are insufficient.
  • Responsibility for tackling the problem is diffuse. Clarity of process and resolution is required.
  • The impact of bullying on the individual is significant enough that immediate action on the part of employers and the government is called for.

The group recommends legislation dealing with workplace bullying. This legislation should apply to all employees in the work force, "irrespective of employment status," the group asserts.

Killeen said he welcomes the group's recommendations.

"I intend to open consultations with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC) and other interested parties in order to decide how best to implement the group's recommendations," Killeen said.

Recommendations Will 'Underpin' Government's Efforts

The group's model for curbing workplace bullying includes requirements that:

  • Procedures for dealing with incidents of bullying at the workplace be a mandatory requirement in the safety statements of all employers;
  • Failing resolution of complaints through an employer's normal dispute resolution procedures, the matter may be referred to the Labour Relations Commission and a rights commissioner; and
  • If a case still is not resolved, it may be referred to either the Labour Court or the Employment Appeals Tribunal for a final determination, which should be enforceable.

"Following the consultation process with the Social Partners and other interested parties, I intend to bring forward legislative proposals to government," Killeen said. "In the meantime, I also intend to implement the group's recommendation to conduct a follow-up survey on workplace bullying that is similar to the survey conducted for the last report on this subject, published in 2001."

Killeen noted that "the principles laid down by the group would underpin future consideration of the issue by the government, as anything less was not acceptable in a fair, safe and equitable workplace".

The principles expressed by the advisory group are that:

  • Workplace bullying is unacceptable in all circumstances.
  • It is the responsibility of management to ensure that bullying is not tolerated at the workplace.
  • Incidents of bulling are adequately dealt with and brought to a fair and conclusive resolution in a timely fashion.

7 Percent of Workers Experience Bullying

A study commissioned for the 2001 report found that on average, 7 percent of the work force claimed to have experienced bullying. This percentage would mean a total of 115,000 workers 52,000 males and 63,000 females had encountered bullying at some stage.

The study for the 2001 report also showed that the nature of the job and of the organization impacts workers' perceptions and experiences of bullying. The report concludes that:

  • The self-employed are less likely than employees to be bullied.
  • Temporary and casual workers are more likely to experience bullying than those with permanent contracts.
  • Those working in public administration and education are more likely to be bullied than those in any other economic sector.
  • Workers in organizations with more than 20 employees are more likely to be bullied than those working in smaller organizations.
  • Those who have experienced organizational change in the workplace, in terms of the appointment of new management, corporate reorganization or the adoption of new technology, are more likely to experience bullying.

The 2001 report was published under the auspices of the Health and Safety Authority (HSA). Among the report's recommendations that were implemented:

  • Codes of Practice were formulated and published under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989, Industrial Relations Act 1990 and Employment Equality Act 1998.
  • HSA was given overall responsibility for providing a coordinated response.
  • HSA set up an anti-bullying response unit, which included an organizational psychologist.
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