Parliament and bullying

Written By: - Date published: 12:42 pm, August 31st, 2018 - 41 comments
Categories: health and safety, labour, national, Parliament, workers' rights - Tags:

If you’ve worked in Parliament, or even close to it as a public servant, you will recognise these features:

  • the bully works you really hard with petulant demands at high speed and without mercy or reward
  • the bully never thanks or rewards you
  • the bully can never under any circumstance be trusted
  • the bully always blames you for your mistakes and always takes the praise for your good work
  • the bully gets to yell at you for actually pretty small reasons
  • the bully can if they want work with their party to push you out of a job and ensure that you never work for their team again
  • the bully can expose you in the media and make you take the fall for their catastrophes, and
  • the party who put the bully there will always side with the bully against you.

If you’ve worked in Parliament, you will know people who have been damaged by them.

Just replace the word “bully” with “MP” or “Minister” and you begin to see the scale of hypocrisy and malice that comes with seeing Members of Parliament make employment laws.

Sure it’s been going on for a while. But this Parliament is governed by the Labour Party. It should be a qualification of being a Labour Member of Parliament that they treat their worked in an exemplary manner.

The most toxic workplace in New Zealand is the one with the greatest power: Parliament. Between the relevant leaders’ offices and Parliamentary Services they actively find their way around all kinds of employment law for the sake of political convenience.

It is reported that Minister Whaitiri has had a high staff turnover since she was appointed with at least five staff members moving on since she got the job less than a year ago. No excuse, but that could have been written about a fair number of government Ministers in the previous government, and the one before that.

It’s time Ministers were actively managed by the Prime Minister and Chief of Staff to resign rather than be investigated for bullying. That is the first way to undo a bullying culture in Parliament: show that you represent higher ideals than the rest of society operates on.

The second way is to have cash fines against the party for high turnover of staff. That party is effectively the company that runs MPs.

The third way could be a “three strikes and you can’t vote” rule. If the Speaker through Parliamentary Services gets three complaints of bullying against a sitting Member of Parliament, the Speaker names them and then excludes them from Parliament.

It used to be the case that in construction and forestry, workplace injury and death rates were just accepted as part of working there. Same with Rugby. Stay hard, suck it up, and only the good die young. Parliament is the last holdout of the bully.

In Parliament, if you work for an elected member and you ‘just don’t get along’, you generally get passed around like a rag doll to someone else. Just imagine if that victim-blaming practice were applied in any other workplace in New Zealand.

It is common human nature that if you are in a hierarchical organisation with a poor working culture and you have no power, you will tend to vent your frustration out on those below you. That’s particularly the case if you are a new Minister in a weak portfolio whose voice will never be noticed in Cabinet.

But then plenty of other Ministers peak, stumble and fall without resorting to bullying. A few staff, like Wayne Eagleson and Heather Simpson, are durable because they have their own appointed power and will not be pushed around by anyone. That’s rare.

There are now vast tax-funded programmes generated by this government against workplace bullying. Against bullying there are whole departments and websites in the Police and elsewhere, mandatory policies in corporations throughout the land signed by their Directors and pinned to noticeboards. The Employment Tribunal is clogged with fresh cases about workplace bullying.

But the one set of people in the country who swagger around in high paid jobs who often think they can push their staff around are Members of Parliament.

I would like to see Prime Minister Ardern make a disproportionate response against bullying to help change the toxic working environment of Parliament. Neither business nor workers will look up to them until they do.

41 comments on “Parliament and bullying”

  1. OnceWasTim 1

    Wow @ Ad!
    The bullet points (almost exactly) reflect what is now going on in our Public Service too, and pretty much cover various points I’ve been making since indulging in soshul media.
    Of course they don’t cover the ways in which politicisaton occurs. Such episodes have to run and play out until the protagonists end up in jail (like 10ths Trust stufF), or the bullshit artists eventually lose all credibility with a Public that puts them there (such as a Dutton in OZ – btw, I could make some predications as to the fate of their NZ equivalents, but allow me the pleasure of seeing them fuck themselves up).

    • roy cartland 1.1

      “the bully always blames you for your mistakes and always takes the praise for your good work”

      – I’d add that they blame you for their own mistakes too. Jerks.

  2. adam 2

    Just another case of do as I say, not as I do.

    Sorry to sound dross, but national did it too. This, as you say, has been going on for some time.

    My view is that fundamentally there is somthing wrong with the base structure of
    any hierarchical organisation. To use that model of organisation, produces these outcomes and other worse ones. Especially a hierarchical structure as archaic as the NZ parliament.

    • RedLogix 2.1

      Another baby meet bathwater moment. If you can think of ANY collective human endeavour that does not involve hierarchy in some form then please feel free to enlighten us. Because I really cannot think of any.

      A more useful question to ask would be; what would make Parliament work better? Why does it tend toward expressing the worst aspects of human behaviour and not the best ones?

      The Australians are visibly grappling with this exact issue in the aftermath of last weeks fiasco:

      http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-09-01/compromise-modern-day-politics-considered-vile-not-always-thus/10187848

      • adam 2.1.1

        So you never heard of the wobblies? Industrial unionism? Workers co-ops? Women’s co-op? The occupy movement? Ravina? Catalonia?

        Your limited range of experience is your problem redlogix, not mine. The fact you want to limit the debate as your goto point is a worry though – or have I got the wrong end of the stick. You want us to keep supporting parliament as some sort of solution for people, yes? Where as my post suggests and I hope people thought of solutions away from that type of thinking.

        But hey the boys club of hierarchy suits some, I get it, it makes others feel comfortable knowing traditional structures, even the structures which oppress them.

        Your get there is a whole other left out there who reject all the traditional power bases. I know it a bit much when this site is dominated by left leaning devotees of liberalism.

        • RedLogix 2.1.1.1

          Most of those examples you mention have their own hierarchy; albeit is different forms; they all have rules, goals, protocols both formal and social. There is always an order, otherwise nothing gets done. (The Occupy movement was quite determined to have no order, and notoriously got nothing done.)

          And even when organisations move towards flatter less formal institutional hierarchy, the resulting informal hierarchy is just as persistent and every bit as prone to bullying and corruption. Even more so because there are fewer rules and protocols, and it all happens invisibly.

          site is dominated by left leaning devotees of liberalism.

          Not really; it’s just that when I read people spouting nice sounding, big radical ideas … like ‘non-hierarchical’ I’ve an annoying tendency to ask exactly what they mean by it.

          • Draco T Bastard 2.1.1.1.1

            Removal of hierarchy != removal of process

            • RedLogix 2.1.1.1.1.1

              Regretably experience strongly indicates otherwise. It’s not hard to work out why.

              • Draco T Bastard

                It’s not an easy shift as people have a tendency to continue to do what they know, what they’re comfortable with.

                The Occupy movement failed because they thought that they could do without process. Such does seem to be the problem of most attempts at the removal of hierarchy.

                Even the removal of hierarchy requires a process. One that slowly brings everyone into the administration of the group.

          • adam 2.1.1.1.2

            Are we using the same word? In that a hierarchy is a system which ranks either on perceived authority and or social status. And then uses those ranks to impose their perception of order, and/or power.

            I’ve been in and worked with many organisations which don’t use that model. I’m in a industrial union which does not do that. I’m in co-ops which don’t run like that at all, and quite frankly the egos are left at the door.

            We get a hell of a lot more done than any organisation which do rank people, creates a pecking order, or grading individuals. The real problem in these organisations to making sure the same people don’t do all the work, and picking the right leaders for the right projects.

            I think you need to get out more and engaged with different ways of doing things, becasue when people are empowered, they don’t fall into the traps you mentioned. They are errors that come with modifying current models. Rather than completely rejecting them for somthing better.

            • RedLogix 2.1.1.1.2.1

              The real problem in these organisations to making sure the same people don’t do all the work, and picking the right leaders for the right projects.

              Of course some people are more competent and energetic than others. In any organisation only a small minority of people get most of the important work done.

              And there are always people who have more experience, fluency and skill … these are the people who know the history, the mistakes and will have the status (formal or not) that others look to for guidance.

              And what are these ‘leader’ things? Oh people given authority to ensure the tasks stay on track and goals are completed. Ideally they’ll exercise that authority wisely, without ego, bullying or corruption.

              And I’m certain your collectives and unions have rules, protocols and orderly mechanisms to enforce them if necessary.

              There is your hierarchy right there! Under your nose. My point is simple, hierarchy is an inherent, irreducible aspect of all human collective endeavour. It cannot be eliminated or ignored, its always there whether formal or informal. The useful question is; how is it managed in order to prevent it from becoming corrupt?

              And your assumptions about my experience are completely false. As well.

              • adam

                Your making assumptions about organisation. And those assumption are that all organisations fall into hierarchical modes. Sorry they don’t, you natural approach or to quote you “hierarchy is an inherent, irreducible aspect of all human collective endeavour” is quite frankly wishful thinking. And not even biological in it’s foundation. All it has to back it up is cultural imperatives and a heavy dose of liberal ideology.

                Next you’ll tell me that elective democracy is the only form of democracy.

                And leaders are not whip holder, indeed in our organisations that type of behaviour is not welcome. To lead in this case, is to motivate and keep the direction desired – firmly in people’s gaze. Not some half baked ego trip of enforcing rules, protocols and order, nor is it impose their will, form ranks, and have power.

                As I said, you don’t or can not seem to accept that people are doing different things which don’t fit comfortably into your world view. And that hierarchy when it is some consciously challenged, can be eliminated. It’s not biological and it definitely is not predetermined.

                I’m sorry to hear that have not had the experience of not working without it.

  3. Dennis Frank 3

    You’re right about Ardern having the opportunity to demonstrate appropriate leadership, in consequence of the current instance of an MP getting physical. Inasmuch as the aggressor is female (I suspect the aggressee is likewise) suitable conclusions ought to be drawn about the potential for operational arms of the residual patriarchy to be morphed into benign entities by gender parity.

    Just as likely women will copy men & use the power the hierarchy gives them to push minions around, eh? As the current incident suggests. Just tossing that thought out there knowing the gender police are forever on the lookout for red meat to pounce on. Go for it!! 😎

    • OnceWasTim 3.1

      Yep!!!
      Adern, AND her Ministers have the opportunity to exercise leadership and make changes that will last, Unfortunately they’ve yet to show me they’re up for it.
      In SO many cases (with regard to the public service and people in senior positions), the record is there for all to see.
      Do you reckon they’re up for it? I reckon at the moment, it’s probably their best chance. I’m not sure though whether some Ministers are aware of the extent to which they’ve been bullshitted to.
      We’ll see.
      And let’s not even start on local government dysfunction (case in point GWRC – we’ll probably have to wait for the next elections before some of those muppets get the message)

      • cleangreen 3.1.1

        Yes I called for Clare Curran to be fired way back in February 2018 when she sent our NGO a letter refusing to step in and sack CEO of RNZ (a national appointee) when he would not give HB/Gisborne a regional reporter as they took ours away two years ago under his administration .

        Jacinda should have culled her a long time ago but Curran still is sitting there with her RNZ portfolio Blooody hell #$%^&*()%^&*()__

        Wake up jacinda!!!!!

  4. Yeah no tolerance for this sort of crap.

    We do not pay high salary’s for MP’s to act like cavemen and cave-women.

    Give em the old heave -ho and sheet the message home this is not some sort of schoolyard for them to start pulling each others hair or giving each other a blood nose.

    Bloody idiots.

  5. veutoviper 5

    Question 1 to you, Ad

    Have you actually worked in Parliament, and if so, in what capacity, when. and for how long?

    • Ad 5.1

      Presuming this isn’t a doxxing question, you can take it that I have worked in a ministry with close ministerial profile.

      You can also take it that I have good experience of people with close experience of working there.

  6. koreropono 6

    Great post, sadly what goes on in Parliament is indicative of a general work place bullying culture in New Zealand. It really is a top down problem where a certain sector of society believe it is okay to target and harass expendable workers. There have been some recent cases in the news that indicate that rather than getting rid of the bullies, affected staff are shut down and subject to further bullying, whilst upper management PR spin the problem. It appears that any of the mechanisms available to affected individuals are useless at best, and perhaps colluding with bullies at worst. Meanwhile victims of said bullying are at risk of losing their livelihoods, their physical and mental health, and in some cases their lives.

    I am not surprised about the bullying culture toward staff in parliament, you just have to look at the beliefs and the behaviours of certain MPs to know that they’re likely narcissistic sociopaths.

  7. McFlock 7

    Lots of hierarchies now manage to operate without bullying. Our parliament should be a leader in this, not a high-profile failure.

    I really liked the idea of cash fines for staff turnover – that would really set mps into controlling each other, because if you lose too many staff, I might not get as much party funding for my campaign next time.

    Naming and shaming offending MPs in parliament would also be good.

    • Your on to it McFlock, – standards need to be set and penalty’s enforced if we ever want to be able to clean up parliaments Act.

      No pun intended.

      Whats more, – in this age of low estimation of politicians in general,…

      They should indeed fear the populace, – NOT the other way round. They are not there to carry out personal grudges or manipulate a situation for increased water revenues or swamp Kauri exploitation.

      They are there to serve us , the people. And if they cant do that without all the human failures that are easily avoided by being adults ?

      Then out the back door they go.

      John Lee Hooker – One Bourbon One Scotch One Beer – YouTube
      Video for bourbon scotch one beer youtube▶ 3:21

  8. bwaghorn 8

    It should be mandatory that when a person is interviewed for any job the employer has to show staff turn over numbers .
    It is always a fault with the boss or bosses if it’s high and employees should have all the facts before they sign in .

  9. And hats off to Gary McCormick on bullying…

    McCormick highlighted that he didn’t physically kick the bully instead, using the phrase “kick him in the backside” as a figurative term of speech.He said that often repeated bullying of vulnerable children went unpunished, and believes parents need to make a stand so that the message gets across to not only the bully, but schools.

    “My view is, if my kids were attacked and bullied by, I’m not talking a one-off incident, but if there was a bullying pattern, and my children were the victim of it, I would go down to the school and I would not be leaving till that child was brought to me and, if necessary, I would call the cops. I would not be passing the responsibility on to the school.

    ———————————————————

    I’ve got a lot of time for Gary McCormick,one of my favorites , — he was among the group of stalwarts who opposed neo liberalism and its inherent passive endorsement of bullying, – he foresaw what was coming all those years ago.

    Good on you , Gary !!!

    🙂

    One of the last great Kiwi comedians in the same vein as McPhail and Gadsby. We need more like them today.

    ——————————————————-

    **** “I, as the parent, have my job to protect my children and that takes precedence over any other system that’s put in place.”

    Following McCormick’s segment, a spokesperson from MediaWorks said: “Neither MediaWorks nor Gary condone violence of any kind.”

    • Dennis Frank 9.1

      Gee, did you read the comments under that? Obviously the education establishment propaganda about a zero-tolerance policy on bullying is total crap.

      One father reported this: “I spoke with my son’s bully at primary school several years ago. The principal of the school was ineffectual at tackling this and lacked leadership. She sat and watched me do this from her office window and then told me I could remove my child from “her” school. She then brought in the board of trustees to reprimand me. The board at the time had two serving police officers on it, one of whom had a partner who was a teacher at the school, something I considered a clear cut conflict of interest. The other officer worked on offences against children and I think he’d lost much of his perspective of what is acceptable and what is not in these circumstances. He threatened me with arrest and by the time the pair of them were through, I was the one feeling bullied.”

      • Yeah mate- politically correct and afforded the opportunity by the free market dog eat dog mentality of anything goes. If certain people think they can see an angle to get around basic morality and decency they will take it.

        One only has to read of the excesses of 19th century gold fields like the Klondike to understand the sound reasons for legislation that inhibits one bastard taking advantage of another. Or even our own gold rush crims…

        Outlaw: the story of Richard Burgess | RNZ
        https://www.radionz.co.nz/programmes/black…/outlaw-the-story-of-richard-burgess

        ( copy and paste the whole kaboodle to view the link )

        Graphically illustrating why legislation and effective enforcement is necessary to curb human excess. We are our own worst enemy’s at times.

  10. Stuart Munro 10

    You’re on an important issue here – but I imagine there are rather worse workplaces. The Indian “students” paying $25 k a year to their boss for immigration purposes. The ag or horticultural workers stuck in the back end of nowhere with a truculent asshole for a boss and unpaid extra shifts or down the road. And, third nations maritime workers – deprived of the protections of their flag country, out of sight of the public, and depending on the limited humanity of chartering companies and individuals to refrain from exploiting or abusing them.

    Is Meka part of this? There’s a difference between bundling someone out of an office and throwing down for real in a less public venue. Bad as it may be, there’s worse out there.

    • But that culture was precipitated by opening the floodgates of acceptability of a bullying culture.

      Neo liberalism and the global markets.

      And by loosening the restrictions placed upon who we would trade with and who we wouldn’t. There are many times , for example ,- when even Grey Power , – when they discovered their investments came from arms manufacturers supporting genocide in hotspots would demand an inquiry.

      Yes there’s bad out there – but we expect better from those whom we pay generous salary’s to guide and lead this country’s safety and prosperity. Irrespective of what party they represent.

      ” If you want to be a leader, you must first be a servant ”.

      – Jesus Christ.

      Circa 33 AD.

      • Stuart Munro 10.1.1

        It really comes down to a willingness to prosecute.

        The charter boats in NZ have been NZ registered for decades for example – making them subject to our labour laws in their entirety. Never been a significant prosecution though – nods and winks at high levels and it all goes away. For decades.

        As for Meka – I need more of the story – “I’m going to run and tell Judith or Gerry” would be pretty fair cause to be flattened – though not typical of most workplaces.

        • WILD KATIPO 10.1.1.1

          Totally agree on what happens on the high seas under our name- albeit through company’s . TBH,… that is more important to me than this spat ,- not to diminish it because what goes on in our parliament dictates what goes on outside.

          I would say Adern needs to act and act swiftly as she seems to be doing.

          But that slavery on the open waters bothers me more… poor men working to provide for their family’s , yet being treated in such a disgusting way.It is akin to the southern plantation owners of 200 years ago in America. My family had a lot to do with the Navy in decades past on my dads side… I would like to think measures were being taken to rectify whats going on out there miles from nowhere, hidden from sight.

          Silly sentiment,… but if you cant trust the Navy who can you trust.

          • Stuart Munro 10.1.1.1.1

            Yeah – Navy can be dodgy on exercises.

            Give them a real job to do and they tend to excel. MSA not so much.

  11. greywarshark 11

    A possible factor in the irritation felt by the Minister is Chris Trotter’s reference to embedded civil servants with long-standing methods and opinions. When in for three years and unable to choose your workers, you might wonder if you are
    schlepping against the enemy. Can you do anything against being attacked and nitpicked by the Opposition, and being undermined by nothing-must-be-done-for- the-first-time assistance?
    https://bowalleyroad.blogspot.com/2017/05/our-path-to-future-is-blocked-by-past.html

    • Pat 11.1

      we will have the same old bagging of CT from the usual suspects but thanks grey for posting this….

      “One possible answer is to offer the voters a three-year inquiry – or, series of inquiries – into how we got ourselves into our current predicament, and how we should set about getting ourselves out of it. Crucially, this mega-inquiry would prioritise the evidence of ordinary New Zealanders. It would solicit especially the stories of those who found themselves at the sharp end of thirty-years-worth of economic and social “reforms”. The inquiry would also make a point of investigating and exposing the prime beneficiaries of those changes. Not only would Kiwis finally get to discover who the winners were, but also how they won, and what sort of institutional arrangements must be kept in place if they’re to go on winning.”

      bag him all you like but this almost prophetic

    • cleangreen 11.2

      100% greywarshark;

      national ‘stool pidgeons’ are everywhere inside the ‘public service’ still today and must be weeded out as Nationalm weeked out any labour public civil servants during their time.

      Remember the memo’s sent to all MBIE staff to comply with rules that did not ’embass’ and Government in any media releases?

      The rules changed then to have a panel of observers to oversee any press releases any Government agency releases before they were able to do so, and it was a form of censorship.some said then.as here said in the NZ Hearld in 2013 “broadcast news was subject to statutory standards and sanctions,”

      https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11123834

  12. Dennis Frank 12

    On the news tonight there was a graphic showing that of the six staffers she started with, five have since left. In a year, that’s quite something. Did she bully them all? We’ll never know. Privacy law prevents our discovery of such wrong-doing unless victims go public with complaints.

    Public servants probably know their chances of getting another job require keeping quiet, so employment law institutionalises bullying. Democracy is therefore a system that produces victims by design – a small number of winners and large number of losers (just like capitalism).

    • Ad 12.1

      It’s not democracy that produces victims.

      It’s the New Zealand parliament.

      And yes, all the truth of her conduct will out.

    • RedLogix 12.2

      Yes losing five of six staffers in a years does reek of extreme carelessness. It needs someone experienced, competent and dispassionate to interview everyone, review the records and make some firm recommendations. The usual process.

      Unless there is a clear case of egregious bad behaviour, no-one involved will be served by a public lynch mob. Tends to degenerate into mass bullying that’s only worse.

  13. Anne 13

    You forgot bully point:

    The bully rejects your idea to improve performance then presents them to superiors as their own idea.

  14. Jum 14

    I’m blxxdy angry. Meka is supposed to be working for better animal welfare as well and can’t if she’s been stood down.

    A couple of points – male or female pushed? Or in Meka’s private space and therefore pushed away? Setting up Meka by intimidating her? Given how politically biased some of the public servants are – I know one or two with a bias against any Labour government – I hope the investigation is very thorough. Most public servants are above that sort of nonsense, thank goodness.

    If none of these circumstances apply Meka should lose her portfolios if she’s physically pushy. Labour supports workers, providing they are helping her support the rights of workers – human or animal – this is not good.

    But I’d put nothing past nats to set up this mess.

    Definite yes to Ardern shutting down bullying in Parliament. They’re all meant to be working for us, not playing at silly war games; could someone pass that on…?

    • Tricledrown 14.1

      No excuses if she is found to have committed the offence she must face the consequences.!

    • veutoviper 14.2

      “A couple of points – male or female pushed? Or in Meka’s private space and therefore pushed away? Setting up Meka by intimidating her?

      Sorry, jum, I had to laugh at this as I worked for Meka some years ago and IMO you have this around the wrong way. I have commented on working with/for Meka on the Facing Meka post here on TS, first at comment 7.3 and more fully at 27. The latter includes comments on Meka’s size and on physical space.

      Facing Meka

      Facing Meka

      As I say there, I never had problems with Meka and enjoyed working with/for her, but some others did not, Since writing those comments, another mutual work colleague and I chatted about the current situation and she was very much of the opposite opinion to me. So Meka does tend to polarise people.

      While I like a good conspiracy theory on many occasions (LOL), I don’t believe that there is any indication of one this time round such as this being a set up by the Nats. Rather, I think it has probably been a case of two people with very different expectations and ways of working who were not meant to work together, and this became apparent very quickly (ie in the first week).

      I had forgotten that she has take on the animal welfare mantle and like you are concerned re this aspect as I volunteered in this area for several decades both in a hands on sense and also in the governance area – and it is so important.

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