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