LRD Booklets October 2015

Bullying and harassment at work - a guide for trade union reps



[pages 3-4]

Bullying and harassment are workplace hazards which have grown steadily over recent years to become a top concern for trade union safety reps. The TUC’s 2014 biennial Health and safety reps’ survey found that the proportion of reps reporting bullying and harassment as one of their top five concerns had increased from around a third (37%) in 2010 to almost half (46%) in 2014.

Over this period, the former coalition government’s austerity policies, continuing under the current Conservative administration, have led to job cuts and insecurity. Bullying thrives in conditions of uncertainty and there is some evidence that spending cuts have led to an increase in bullying and harassment in public sector workplaces.

In addition, the financial climate and job insecurity is making people fearful of standing up to the problem. And unions report that managers facing external pressures to deliver a range of inappropriate or unattainable targets are being bullied and in turn bully their staff.

Adding to the uncertainty is the rise of precarious work models like zero-hours contracts, false self-employment, agency working and unpaid internships. Official statistics released in September 2015 show a 6% rise in zero-hours contracts, but unions say these figures underestimate the true extent of the increase. The Office for National Statistics says that UK businesses used 1.5 million zero-hours contracts to employ staff in January this year, compared with 1.4 million a year earlier.

A recent survey from the law firm Slater and Gordon found that almost six in 10 workers have either experienced or witnessed bullying at work, but government attacks on workers’ rights, trade union organisation and health and safety law and its enforcement have made it harder for workers to speak out about abuse at work and for union reps to take action to prevent it. It is also more difficult for unions to help seek justice for those who have been made ill or who have left their jobs as a result of bullying and/or harassment at work. Several unions are also reporting incidences of their reps being bullied by employers.

Against this background, the role of safety and other union reps is all the more important, both on a collective and individual level. There is ample evidence to demonstrate that unions make a difference on safety, as set out in the TUC report, The union effect ( The presence of trade union safety reps in workplaces reduces the level of injuries, improves ill-health and helps to change the workplace safety culture.

This updated LRD guide provides trade union reps with examples of best practice and practical guidance on what they can do to prevent bullying and harassment in the workplace, how they can confront problems, and how they can best provide support and representation for members who have been bullied and/or harassed.

It examines:

• the scale and extent of workplace bullying and harassment;

• the causes of bullying and harassment and their consequences for, and costs to, individuals and organisations;

• the law on bullying and harassment;

• advice about how to recognise and raise awareness about bullying and harassment;

• union advice to reps and members on what they can do to tackle bullying and harassment and the support available from unions and other organisations; and

• how to negotiate policies with employers and ensure that these are properly implemented.

It brings together advice from the TUC, individual trade unions, the advice and conciliation service Acas, the Health and Safety Executive and other organisations.