Mid & East Antrim: Union says bullying claims ‘should rock council to its core’

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has been described as “a toxic workplace” by public sector trade union NIPSA.

Wednesday, 6th October 2021, 4:09 pm

The trade union which represents almost 300 members in the council was commenting on its survey into alleged bullying and harassment within the local authority.

In a statement, NIPSA official Alan Law said: “The results should rock the council to its core. They demonstrate that the organisation needs urgent reform to bring about a culture change where staff feel able to raise concerns and where they will have confidence that these will be listened to and dealt with accordingly.”

“This is a toxic workplace,” he claimed

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council said it has “zero tolerance” for bullying and is taking the union-raised concerns “extremely seriously”.

NIPSA received 99 responses to the survey which the council says represents approximately 12 per cent of the local authority’s workforce.

Survey findings showed that 61 per cent of respondents said they have experienced bullying/harassment at work, 57 per cent said they did not feel supported by the council; 54 per cent said their employer did not take bullying or harassment complaints seriously.

Almost half, 48 per cent, when asked if they believed there was a “culture of bullying/harassment in council” agreed with the statement, while 15% answered “no” and 35% selected ‘other.’

More than half, 59 per cent said that the council was very unlikely or unlikely to take concerns about workplace bullying or harassment seriously; 19 per cent said likely or very likely and one fifth said neither.

Asked if they thought reporting concerns would impact career / promotion

prospects, 79 per cent said they felt it would be “very likely/likely” ; five per cent said “unlikely/very unlikely” and 16 per cent said neither.

With regard to “whistleblowing”, 83 per cent did not feel confident that their concerns would be investigated and action taken if upheld.

Mr Laws added: “NIPSA calls on council to set aside all confidentiality agreements staff who have left the council have been required to sign. It is only through transparency can this organisation do better. The political leadership must act immediately and ensure change occurs and is sustained.”

The council has insisted it has “zero tolerance for bullying and harassment”.

A report presented to councillors on Monday evening states that absenteeism is “continuing in a downwards trend”, falling to a low of 5.38 days in 2020/21 from 10.64 days during 2019/20.

The council experienced the highest absenteeism rate in Northern Ireland during the years 2016/17 and 2017/18.

Factors said to have contributed to this decrease include the introduction of a new attendance policy in 2018/19 and “increased focus on staff well-being and mental health support” as well as the introduction of home working and furlough in 2020/21.

A staff satisfaction survey is scheduled to be carried out this month. A previous survey was carried out online by Investors in People in 2018.

A spokesperson for Mid and East Antrim Borough Council said: “Council is taking the concerns raised by NIPSA extremely seriously.

“This council takes a zero tolerance approach to bullying and harassment in the workplace and a wide range of procedures are already in place for such concerns to be voiced, investigated and for those who raise them to be fully supported by the organisation,

“On receipt of the survey results, a meeting has been arranged this afternoon by senior management and council is continuing to seek an urgent meeting with union representatives to discuss these matters.

“One incident of alleged bullying and harassment is one too many at Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.

“Appropriate processes are in place to ensure staff who raise such matters are fully supported.”

Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter

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Click here to read: Mid and East Antrim Borough Council rejects union’s ‘bullying culture’ claim

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