January 12, 2007

What is required (?)…

What is required (?)…

The recent comments and posts in this blog could easily be interpreted as ‘union bashing’, but this is far from the truth.

We suggest that workplace bullying in academia should involve the collective and coordinated action of many parties, such as colleagues, managers, governors, union reps, funding and quality control bodies, politicians, and communities.

Many of the comments posted here about our union (NATFHE + AUT = UCU), have been made and are made by union members, i.e. individuals who made a conscious decision not to resign from the union and perhaps even pursue legal action against the union, but instead have chosen to stay in the rank and file; to fight the fight from the inside.

These individuals all carry a common experience, in brief a lack of effective support and resolution regarding their particular case of workplace bullying. Yet, they remain members of the union.

To single out the union means that in effect, one is looking for a single cause, and this is simply false, misleading, counter-productive, and dangerous.

In random order, some of the challenges include, and some random thoughts are:

• Failure of some employers/managers to fully implement ACAS guidelines, and in particular the right to call upon witnesses, to have representation, to have access to accurate records of all hearings. Yes, the Employment Tribunals can decide on this but does it have to always go that far? Are there no other options?

• Failure of some employers to have appropriate internal procedures, embedded with principles of natural justice. How many a record of resolving employment disputes through negotiations and a truck record to prove so?

• Colleagues who are afraid to speak up for fear that they may suffer various forms of penalties.

• HR and personnel departments caught in the dilemma between their professional training and professionalism, versus possible management ‘pressures’ to go along with the prevailing and obviously wrong groupthink.

• A noted lack of expert union reps in workplace bullying backed up by union active policy, strategy, negotiation, and legal action. There is a web page online from a network support group, and a legal/counseling help line that union members can phone, but the issue seems to be the lack of satisfactory results in some well document cases. Why are union members voicing concerns?

• Funding and quality control bodies should somehow engage in the process of contributing to the implementation and appropriate application of internal grievance and disciplinary procedures. They should/can consider what is happening with workplace bullying, for this has effects on how the general workplace functions or dysfunctions. – Yes, we know universities are independent bodies. True, but this is where the collective energies of multiple partners at all levels have to come into this, and the union is only one of them. In fact, the union could lead such a campaign and perhaps attempt to unite all the players in some kind of common cause.

Yes, we do have a new booklet that is well written, BUT the issue remains ‘policing’, and from what we know, universities are not always good at policing their own. An independent party is indeed needed, an external party, even an ombudsman, something, anything… for there are far too many instances when universities when left on their own have not always done the right thing… (ACAS, internal procedures, discrimination, victimisation etc)

TUC, Andrea Adams Trust, and other organisations are working/have worked on a number of projects – policing remains the issue, the gap, the weakness…

This is perhaps one of the central challenges. It requires multiple players. The politicians have told us what we already know, ‘universities are independent bodies’. Does ‘independence’ mean lack of accountability and transparency on issues of workplace bullying?

The reply from HEFCE is/was that universities are accountable to their own governing bodies. Well, one wonders how cozy these relationships may become after some time…

There is a voluntary code of practice for governors, but how many of us know about it or have read it? How many governors have been challenged successfully?

So, who has sole responsibility for this mess? So far, we have failed to pinpoint a single agent for change. That would be too easy. A collective and coordinated effort of multiple players is needed. We have a long way to go…

It would be good to hear/read from all on what is required. We accept that certain things are required by our union, but what about the other parties, and how does a strategy progress beyond help lines, online and phone counseling, and well written booklets?

Here is an opinion: There is no doubt that organisational challenges will pop up in any related commentary and discussion, but these issues could/can be resolved if there is a really independent external body to measure, quantify, check, assess how universities are dealing with workplace bullying. If the problem is ‘independence’, can politicians do something about this? The economic argument is easy to make. The membership of such a group can include union reps, employers, independent HR experts, consultants, politicians etc… a wide body with relevant knowledge.

Yes, ambitious… back to the original claim that it is impossible for the union and its members to alone tackle workplace bullying. The responsibility has to be collective.


Anonymous said...

Yes - it is about collective players - the union, HR, silent witnesses.

Antone who knows that there is bullying in their workplace and does not speak out is colluding with the bullying.

Domestic violence is not out in the open - it is acknowledged and many groups of people are working towards helping both the victims and the perpetrators.

Those who bully need help.

Organisations that condone bullying need help.

Unions can help...

Those who risk their careers to speak out against bullying need support

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon said...

How did an HR manager at Imperial College (_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ) who covered up two serious cases of discrimination at a faculty be appointed as an "Equality and Diversity Advisor"?

Is this how management rewards its loyal staff?

Anonymous said...

It may be useful to speculate why university management are so fearful of confronting bullying behaviour; bullying must be such an integral part of university life that they are fearful of what will happen.

Think about why it is so difficult to confront bullying those of you who collude with bullying...

What are your fantasies of what will happen if a policy of zero tolerance is adopted...