More claims of bullying by parliamentary staff

A week ago from stuff: Parliamentary staff allege rampant bullying at the Beehive

Parliament’s back office staff have claimed a culture of bullying and harassment has affected their health and driven some out of jobs they used to love. Andrea Vance investigates.

There are few things more stressful in life than restructuring and redundancy. But imagine learning your job is at risk from a Powerpoint presentation in a room full of 200 of your colleagues.

The employee was a senior manager. Her team knew of the restructuring proposal before she did, because that morning they’d all been asked to pick up a letter from a desk in their office, outlining the plans.

It took another week for the manager to receive her letter, finally confirming her job was on the line. When she spoke up about her treatment, she felt she was frozen out of decisions, her emails were ignored, she was blanked in person and whispered about behind her back.

Within a few weeks, the manager left her job, walking out the same day she resigned. She took a pay out and signed a confidentiality agreement.

She is one of 35 back-office staff who have left Parliament since Christmas.

Stuff has spoken to nine women about their experiences working at Parliamentary Service and the Office of the Clerk. They’ve spoken on the condition of anonymity, many worried about obtaining professional references and burning contacts in Wellington’s small public service bubble.

They have broken their silence amid an independent review into claims of bullying and harassment carried out by consultant Debbie Francis. A highly-placed source who has read the first draft said it was “shocking, but not surprising”. It is now with lawyers and will then be sent to political parties, who’ll have a week to respond.

Both the Office and the Service deny there is a culture of bullying and harassment and say many of the claims made to Stuff are “inaccurate and untrue”. Most of those interviewed also reported their concerns to Francis, but have expressed concern that no-one will be held to account.

Responding to the allegations, Gonzalez-Montero said: “No complaints of bullying have been received by the Parliamentary Service since I took up my new role in February. There is therefore no basis upon which to claim that I have brought a culture of bullying and harassment to the Service.

“All staff who were affected by the restructuring were informed, either verbally or in writing, before the Powerpoint presentation took place.”

Staff spoken to by Stuff described what they felt was a “100 per cent toxic” workplace, “petulant and unprofessional” behaviour from senior staff, and “gender intimidation.” Twelve men and 23 women have left, although women do make up 62 per cent of staff.

Today: Parliamentary staffer says she ‘cried all the way home’ after bullying

A further three ex-employees spoke to Stuff this week on the condition of anonymity.

One former Office of the Clerk staffer described how they reached “rock bottom” after working for the organisation.

Another described encountering “sexist” attitudes and said allegations of sexual harassment were not taken seriously, with a “lack of support” for overworked and stressed staff.

A woman working for the Office of the Clerk complained of being harassed while working overseas in 2017. “The staff member did not wish to pursue a complaint,” Clerk of the House of Representatives David Wilson said.

In a statement, Wilson and Gonzalez-Montero said: “Our door is always open to employees who feel they have any workplace concerns, including historical, about perceived bullying, harassment or any other inappropriate behaviour.”

However, they also said many of the allegations made to Stuff are “simply not true”.

If the ‘open door’ is to bully’s office it won’t resolve the problems.

Gonzalez-Montero sent an internal email to staff this week claiming former staff “may be breaking non-disclosure agreements” by speaking to journalists.

He refused to say how many staff have signed a gag order or whether he had issued warnings to those involved.

It sounds like there is a lot of sorting out to do.

Leave a comment

3 Comments

  1. Duker

     /  29th April 2019

    I thought that making public sector staff leaving sign ‘non disclosure’ was not proper

    “Complete confidentiality should not be promised in a settlement agreement because of statutory disclosure requirements. The disclosure regimes applying to public entities are more onerous than those applying to the private sector.
    http://www.mondaq.com/NewZealand/x/178258/Employee+Benefits+Compensation/Settlement+Issues+and+severance+payments

    Reply
  2. Kitty Catkin

     /  29th April 2019

    If you take a payout in exchange for confidentiality and then break the confidentiality, you should pay the money back.

    Confidentiality must be complete, surely, or it’s pointless.

    Reply
    • Duker

       /  29th April 2019

      The payment isn’t for confidentially, it’s for smoothing your resignation. Normally the amount of money is confidential so there isn’t any bargaining. The fact there was a payout shouldn’t be secret

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s