Solutions come out of private discussions, not public battles

Dr Pushpa Bhardwaj Wood

Dr Pushpa Bhardwaj Wood

Wellington

                                       

                                                        Rebel MP Dr Gaurav Sharma: Did he follow the right processes and consider the pros and cons of being a Parliamentarian before entering politics? (RNZ Photo by Phil Smith)

There are always two sides to every story, right?

As it turns out, not really!

There can be multiple sides to any given story. There is a ‘victim’ side of the story, an ‘accused’ side, there could be further two sides to the story – those supporting the ‘victim’ and those supporting the ‘accused.’ And let us not also forget the ‘media’ side of the story that tries to put forward a balanced view. But no matter which side you look at or prefer, there have to be facts, evidence and reasonable point expressed from each of these sides!

So, when I managed to sift through most of the above sides of the latest Dr Gaurav Sharma incident or story, one thing popped into my mind – what a mess!

Both sides could have handled it better. This whole incident has raised more questions for me than provided answers.

In one of my previous roles, I had a portfolio as Harassment Prevention and Training Officer.

I held this portfolio for more than a decade and worked with over 100 complaints. Therefore, I am familiar with various aspects of harassment and bullying.

The Health and Safety at Work Act

The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 places a greater responsibility on employers to keep their workplaces safe for their employees by imposing a variety of health and safety obligations.

“These obligations are imposed on persons conducting a business or undertaking as well as officers, workers (which includes employees) and other persons at the workplace.”

A key duty imposed by the Act requires the elimination of health and safety risks, as far as is reasonably practicable. If it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate health and safety risks, then such risks must, as far as is reasonably practicable, be minimised.

Although there is currently no legal definition of ‘bullying,’ WorkSafe New Zealand has published comprehensive guidelines which define bullying as “repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that can lead to physical or psychological harm.”

The duty to eliminate health and safety risks in the workplace also extends to harassment.

However, unlike bullying, employees are expressly protected against sexual and racial harassment by the Employment Relations Act 2000 and the Human Rights Act 1993.

Bullying and Harassment

To the best of my knowledge, the claims made by Dr Sharma are defined as ‘bullying’ rather than ‘harassment.’

According to the government website, bullying is defined as usually (a) Deliberate: the bully intends to cause pain or discomfort (b) Involves a power imbalance: this could be based on status, physical size, age, or gender (c) Is a pattern of behaviour over time that leads to fear and anxiety — it is not usually a one-off thing and (c) Causes short or long-term physical or psychological harm.

Workplace bullying, and ‘repeated and unreasonable behaviour’ towards a person or a group of people can cause physical or mental harm and bullying may include victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening a person.

The Dr Sharma incident has raised a few questions and I will try and articulate them.

Is Parliament regarded as a ‘workplace’ in Dr Sharma’s case? If it is, the usual workplace responsibilities and obligations apply under the Workplace Health and Safety Act 2015 and the Employment Relations Act 2000.

The due process

I am assuming that Dr Sharma is well aware of these and has activated the rights provided to him as an employee and had followed the due process, which includes an attempt to resolve the ‘concern’ or in common terms a ‘dispute.’

WorkSafe proves extensive guidelines on how to deal with workplace bullying and there is a process that needs to be followed including informing the relevant manager informally first and if needed formally after that. There are forms for making ‘informal’ and ‘formal’ complaints.

While the informal process does not ask for witnesses or evidence as such, the formal process asks this question. Again, I am assuming that Dr Sharma has familiarised himself with the complaints process and has followed it. Only after following the due process set by his Party and Parliament Services, that he decided to use social media in his attempt to seek justice.

What was the outcome of the formal complaint process?

The first thing that I have always asked any complainant is, ‘What outcome are you expecting from this process’? I am not yet clear about what outcome/s Dr Sharma is seeking apart from his call for a ‘public enquiry.’

Life as a politician

I wish conducting a public enquiry is as simple, not to mention the cost involved in such a process that the public will have to pay. But if it is justified and serves the public good then by all means.

Dr Sharma is an intelligent person with great potential, and I hope that he is a good medical practitioner too. I assume that before he threw his hat into the ‘political ring,’ he had done his homework thoroughly in weighing up the pros and cons of living in the political and public limelight. Politics is definitely not for the faint-hearted.

In a way, you lose your privacy/anonymity, and control over your own time and have to hold your tongue more often than not!

I hope his trusted advisors took him through the process of ‘serious soul-searching’ before he decided to join politics.

When you join a firm, organisation, private company or political party; you agree to comply with their policies, practices, strategy, principles and way of operating.

It is common practice to do due diligence before you take on the role, be it paid or unpaid!

Dr Sharma must have gone through these steps.

What went wrong within his first term in the office that he felt compelled to ‘fight the battle’ in the public domain and through social media? What were his close friends and trusted advisors doing to ensure his emotional and mental health and well-being?

This saga must have taken a toll on him.

Introspection and Consultation

Years of experience have taught me that no matter which profession or place of work you join if you cross the policy and procedures that you signed up for, there will always be some consequences.

Essentially, you have two options: (a) if you are not comfortable, ask yourself, ‘Am I in the right job/profession? (2) Get out, and fight the battle with fresh energy, conviction and appropriate support.

I know that it is never easy to admit to oneself that you may be in the wrong place or wrong profession. In my view, only a naïve person will think that they can go into Parliament and change the world in their first term.

In professional language, the first term in Parliament is a training period to learn and decide if you are in the right profession.

I am reminded of the wise words of my grandfather: “When you fight your battles in a public domain, no one wins, and you lose control over your own destiny. But if you fight it with a view to resolve the dispute, then each side loses some and wins some and everyone compromises!

Dr Pushpa Bhardwaj Wood is Director of the Fin-Ed Centre of Massey University based in Wellington. She is a founding and Life Member of the Wellington Interfaith Council, a founding member of the Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) Wellington Chapter and is involved in many social, cultural and educational initiatives. Fluent in many languages including English, Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Haryanvi and Rajasthani, she has considerable experience in managing harassment complaints and training people to manage workplace safety issues. She was the first woman of Indian origin to be appointed by the late Queen Elizabeth as an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) in her Birthday Honours List in June 2016 for services to financial literacy and interfaith relations.

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