February 12, 2007

UCU and Leeds Metropolitan lock horns over 'institutional bullying culture' claims made by staff

A furious war of words has erupted between the management of Leeds Metropolitan University and the national University and College Union over the union's allegations of an "institutionalised culture of bullying". Regional UCU officials say they have been inundated with complaints from current and former staff about bullying and a "climate of fear" at the university, and are demanding an inquiry.

But the university hit back this week, claiming it had already supported bullying victims and acted to dismiss staff who had "behaved badly". It accused the union of acting "irresponsibly" by resurrecting old complaints and failing to co-operate with the university over the latest allegations.

A support group of allegedly bullied staff has been formed to share experiences after a story in The Times Higher last year about claims by former art lecturer Julia Odell that she had been bullied and harassed at Leeds Metropolitan Harrogate College. Ms Odell resigned her post at the end of last year and signed a deal with the university to settle her allegations of constructive dismissal. The university did not admit any liability and the terms of the deal are confidential.
[The normal process - the victim is invited to sign a confientiality clause and the bullies get away with it.]

Since then, dozens of staff have come forward to tell UCU leaders in private that they too had been bullied, the UCU said this week.
Many claimed that managers brushed aside their complaints, and that bullying intensified after they reported their problems. [Surprise, suprise... Don't worry, HEFCE has a working group to encourage mediation!]

A letter from UCU regional official Adrian Jones, seen by The Times Higher, calls on LMU vice-chancellor Simon Lee to commission an external independent inquiry into the complaints and allegations.

The letter, dated January 4, also sent to Education Secretary Alan Johnson and the Higher Education Funding Council for England, warns that "evidence is surfacing, rapidly, of a culture of bullying" at the university. It adds: "In some areas it appears to be so entrenched that it might legitimately be described as institutionalised."

Mr Jones says in the letter that the UCU has received "a great many" approaches from staff who claim to have been bullied at the university. He adds:
"A number of those now contacting UCU are still employed but say they are afraid to complain within the university's procedures as, they assert, where this was done by others known to them their concerns were not taken seriously, but instead the bullying intensified once they had complained." [Is the union surprised about this?]

The UCU is conducting a survey of LMU staff to gather further evidence of bullying at the university.
[Why can't the UCU do the same with all universities?]

In a letter sent to all UCU members at Leeds Metropolitan, Adrian Jones says the union has noted that the university is currently introducing an occupational stress management policy. But he adds that UCU still feels it is necessary to conduct a staff survey on bullying to get "a better sense of the scale of these problems". The union is expecting to compile the results of the survey by early March.
Mr Jones declined to comment on his letter, other than to say that Professor Lee had so far failed to respond to it.

Roger Kline, UCU's head of equality and employment rights, said the union was "determined to make LMU a bullying-free zone". He added: "Bullying is an offence to human dignity, academic freedom and collegial working, and damages staff health." [Nice rhetoric. He is waking up... a bit slow off the mark but he is getting there.]

An LMU spokesperson said: "The university did receive a letter from a regional official at the UCU. It referred to an individual case from a previous year of a former part-time member of staff in Harrogate that had already been resolved and governed by a legal agreement between the parties.
[Yes, confidentiality clauses are powerful means to shut up the victims.]

"The university is therefore not in a position to discuss this further. The letter also made a number of general and unspecified allegations of bullying. No details were given about the alleged incidents. Notwithstanding this, the university was concerned to find out further details about the incidents so that we could investigate further. We rang the UCU, but they refused to take or return our calls.
[Wow, just imagine... the management phoned UCU and UCU refused to take or return our calls...]

"Where specific allegations of bullying have been raised, the university has investigated and dealt with such incidents swiftly, supported those who had raised concerns and dismissed those who had behaved badly, despite union support for the perpetrators and union objection to the university's approach. We believe the UCU has acted irresponsibly in this matter. It refused to speak to us about these matters. If and when the details are provided we will act swiftly, as we have always done. Similarly, the attempt to rekindle interest in a three-year-old story about some staff reactions to the previous management in Harrogate is unworthy of further comment."


Anonymous said...

Maybe UCU could get involved in this?

Posted on Roger Kline's blog. Sally Hunt is still silent about workplace bullying......

Amicus and DTI launch the world's largest anti-bullying project
2 October 2006
Employers must take a zero tolerance approach to bullying says trade union Amicus, as the findings from the world’s largest anti-workplace bullying project are launched today (Monday 2 October 2006).

But in a poll conducted by Amicus, as part of the project, it was found that only 2% of employers took a zero tolerance approach to bullying. 97% of organisations have never quantified the impact of bullying. And 80% of organisations have an anti-bullying policy in place but despite this more than half of those polled still think bullying is an issue in their organisation.

Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, The Rt Hon. Alistair Darling MP, Amicus General Secretary, Derek Simpson and Clive Ansell, Group Strategy Director at BT will reveal the findings of the joint Amicus and DTI, Dignity at Work Partnership research. They are urging businesses to take a zero tolerance approach to bullying in the workplace.
The key findings in the research conducted by Portsmouth University is that organisations who take a zero tolerance approach are the organisations who deal with the problem most effectively.

The Amicus and DTI funded project addresses the serious issue of bullying in the workplace which is estimated to cost UK employers over £2 billion a year in sick pay, staff turnover and loss of production 1. 1 in 10 employees say they have been bullied 2.
The research conducted by Portsmouth University gives a contemporary view of good practice in dealing with bullying and harassment and how the problem is dealt with in the workplace.
The recommendations of the findings include;
The adoption of a zero-tolerance approach
In partnership with unions organisations must encourage consultation with employees on early intervention strategies
Recognition that bullying is an organisational issue rather than simply a problem between individuals
All anti bullying and harassment policies should be clearly set out and communicated along with the business case for doing so.
Organisations should use the term bullying to describe negative behaviours
All managers should be trained in mediation and conflict resolution skills
Managers at the very top should lead by good example and a senior member of management should become 'the anti-bullying champion'

Amicus General Secretary, Derek Simpson said: "Bullying in the workplace can destroy peoples lives. Our project aims to tackle this problem in partnership with employers by taking a zero tolerance approach to bullying from the outset.

"One of the most effective ways of dealing with bullying behaviour is to 'nip it in the bud ' and this often involves dealing with situations informally before situations go too far and real damage is done.

"We will be taking these finding to workplaces across the country and we hope employers will join us in spreading dignity in the workplace."

Trade and Industry Secretary, Alistair Darling said: “Bullying at work is a big problem and employers need to be aware of it. It corrodes employees’ self-confidence and self-esteem and leads to a hostile working environment. It’s bad for staff and it’s bad for business.

“People who feel harassed or victimised can’t do their job properly. And businesses that do not tackle bullying suffer from days lost through stress and illness, decreased productivity and damage to their reputation.

“The Dignity At Work report gives businesses and organisations the tools they need to make zero-tolerance of bullying a reality for all workers.”

The companies that have signed up to the project include; BT, British Airways, BAE Systems, Legal & General, Royal Mail and Remploy.

Key to the findings is that policies alone will not secure a harassment free working environment. Employees need to be involved in creating and implementing initiatives, which lead to ownership both of the problem and the solution.

Anonymous said...

"Where specific allegations of bullying have been raised, the university has

investigated and dealt with such incidents swiftly,

supported those who had raised concerns

dismissed those who had behaved badly,

Well that's an excellent start.... sounds action packed... as far as I am aware... as someone who has been bullied... my university has done

.... nothing at all....

despite the fact that an internal survey indentified bullying....

... what a shame that I am not able to reveal their name....

,,,,, sounds like the management here could help them...

Anonymous said...

There is a widespread culture of bullying at Leeds Met and it all comes from the top - the VC Simon Lee. His running of the place is Stalinist, from the self aggrandising cult he has built, the toadies his has put in place to do his dirty work for him, the corruption, the threats, the bullshit, the lies and the casual dismissal of policies and procedures.

Leeds Met is a despicable place.