The shocking extent of bullying and harassment of parliamentary staff was laid bare this week (July 11) in a new report — and Unite’s parliamentary staff branch are hopeful it will bring about lasting change.
The inquiry led by Gemma White QC, who spoke to more than 200 staff members, found a ‘significant problem’ with workplace bullying and harassment, including sexual harassment, of staff at the hands of MPs and senior colleagues.
Staff who contributed to the report told harrowing stories of being shouted on a daily basis by their bosses and having objects such as office equipment thrown at them. Staff were often asked to take on personal duties for MPs, such as cleaning homes and caring for pets and children.
Sexual harassment was highlighted as a significant problem, as was the failure of any effective system in place to support staff.
Unite parliamentary staff branch secretary Harriet Dines spoke to UniteLive about the issue following publication of the report.
“As shocking as some of the testimony in the report is, I’m not surprised at all by any of it,” she said. “Bullying and harassment of parliamentary staff has reached endemic levels.”
Dines, who first became active in the union after sexual harassment in Parliament gained media attention in 2017, welcomed the White report, especially since, she said, “it is the first time staff concerns have been placed at the forefront”.
But she warned that action must be taken urgently to address the situation.
“The initial Cox report on bullying and harassment in Parliament came out nine months ago, and still many of its recommendations haven’t been implemented,” Dines said. “We can no longer wait for action.”
The latest White report offered a number of recommendations which Dines said “really got to the crux of the problem” – most importantly the recommendation that there be established a separate HR department specifically for parliamentary staff. At the moment, no such department exists.
“A major reason why bullying and harassment has been allowed to fester is that there is little accountability,” she explained. “MPs’ staff are employed individually by each MP – so it’s like there are 650 separate small businesses but no one as a whole takes responsibility for staff. In this way, bullying and harassment become structural problems.”
Dines called for the conciliation service Acas’ involvement, so that an agreement can be hammered out with the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) and Unite to transform employment practices.
“In addition to continuing our work of supporting individual members who are victims of bullying and harassment, our branch is now campaigning for Unite to be consulted every step of the way on any changes that happen as a result of this week’s report,” she explained.
“Bullying and harassment is certainly nothing new in Parliament – the Unite parliamentary branch has been campaigning on this issue for more than two decades,” Dines said. “We’re hopeful that this report which is long overdue can be the catalyst for real change.”