The silent sufferers of bullying and harassment must get redressal

A call to the government, businesses and unions for urgent action

Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Saunoamaali’i Karanina Sumeo

Supplied Content (Edited)

New research has revealed that Māori, Pacific, Asian, as well as disabled and bisexual workers, are disproportionately affected by bullying and harassment in the workplace.

These findings have been published in the report ‘Experiences of Workplace Bullying and Harassment in Aotearoa New Zealand’  by the Human Rights Commission.

Conducted by Kantar Public, a national survey of New Zealand’s workplace was undertaken to understand the prevalence of sexual harassment, racial harassment and bullying across our workplaces.

The survey found that 30% of workers experienced sexual harassment in the last five years, 39% experienced racial harassment during the same period and 20% suffered bullying behaviour frequently in the last 12 months alone.

When broken down further, the data revealed that young females, bisexual, and disabled workers were especially likely to have experienced sexual harassment. Racial harassment was most prevalent among minority ethnicities, disabled workers, and migrant workers.

Workers who reported the highest rates of bullying included younger workers, disabled, bisexual, and Pacific workers.

As a result of these experiences, 86% of workers who were harassed or bullied said that they were negatively impacted, while 29% said that they suffered a large or extremely negative impact.

Workers said their experiences of bullying and harassment left them feeling disrespected, uncomfortable, angry, frustrated, and anxious. Some workers were so distressed that they reported considering or attempting suicide.

Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Saunoamaali’i Karanina Sumeo said that such abuse is not acceptable.

“These stories are heartbreaking. Workers should not have to fear for their mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing while out earning a living for themselves, their households and contributing to our national prosperity,” she said.

Ms Sumeo said that dignity and basic rights to a safe work environment, free of discrimination and violence, must be protected, respected, and remedied. Employers must ensure that staff do not abuse power and influence over other colleagues,” she said.

The research also found that formal pathways for addressing harassment and bullying were both uncommon and, when accessed, often ineffective. Only 24% of workers raised a formal complaint, but almost a third of workers chose not to tell anyone about it.

M Sumeo said that workers do not feel empowered to come forward with bullying or harassment complaints for a range of reasons, including feelings of shame, denial, fear of consequences, hopelessness, helplessness, and fear of facing scrutiny and blame.

“Employers are responsible for creating a safe environment, implementing robust processes and providing adequate support to ensure workers are able to speak openly about their experiences without fear for their livelihoods or fear of retaliation,” she said.

Many workers said that they wanted better support, preferably from someone independent looking into workplace culture and policies.

“The study suggests that formal pathways for prevention and responding to harmful workplace behaviours are insufficient. Victims do not want to go through an adversarial system and the burden rests on them to be the confronter. Workers simply are not getting the support that they need,” Ms Sumeo said and called on the government, businesses, and unions to collaborate urgently and critically review our Accident Compensation and Health and Safety at Work laws, to support better those suffering.

“Working Kiwis have a right to safe, healthy work environments, and deserve better protection than what is afforded to them now,” Ms Sumeo said.

 

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