Policy not procrastination

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Workplace bullying is a growing problem. This statement is backed by a growing body of research and also by peoples own experience. If we have not experienced it, we have witnessed it or heard about it. It is a Health and Safety concern and every workplace that supplies a contract will have a policy. The policy normally starts with something like “work place bullying and harassment will not be tolerated.” That will normally be followed by examples of what constitutes bullying and the steps to take if being bullied. In my experience whatever the policy may promise, it seldom delivers in practice.

Last week it became public knowledge that 22 workers from one Warehouse store have made written allegations of bullying against their store manager. Of that 22, 18 still work for The Warehouse. The reason the investigation became public is because the workers and the union spoke to media. It was a last resort and done out of pure frustration when the company completed a three month investigation and found that all the allegations were unsubstantiated and that 22 workers had misinterpreted behaviour as bullying when what it was actually just ‘management style.”  

I have read all the statements, spoken to most of the complainants, attended many of the interviews held with the company and read the confidential report generated by The Warehouse HR. I am still confounded that the two parties, being given the same evidence could come to two such different conclusions.

As a union organiser I hear about workplace bullying on a weekly basis. It is widespread. One of the difficulties is that people feeling bullied are hesitant to report it. If they do, it often signals the end of their career. In my experience both sexual harassment and bully complaints against a manager most often result in the complainant getting paid out. This is neither fair nor any kind of justice. The truth is that the companies with their bullying and harassment policy are seldom equipped or qualified to investigate allegations. The other inconvenient truth is that they have a financial interest in backing their management

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In the case of the Warehouse 22 workers, after 3 years of suffering independently, finally decided that enough was enough. With the assistance of their union organiser they decided to put their complaints in writing. This was neither an easy task nor one taken lightly. During the process of the complaints being investigated the company announced a major restructure with 200 estimated redundancies. The workers stuck to their guns while fearing for their jobs. The statements were taken, the company was notified and the waiting began.

The company finally responded to the union and said they would investigate. The union requested two things. We requested an independent investigator and that all complainants be interviewed. . The company declined both requests.

The company chose not to interview the 4 workers who had left the company even though they cited bullying as a significant contributing factor to them leaving.  The company also declined we engaged an agreed upon independent person to investigate. Their position was that the company HR were fully up to the job. We disagree.

Bullying comes from the top down. A culture of bullying can’t successfully perpetuate unless it is accepted as normal practice. The store manager in question was perceived by the staff as a bully at the last store he managed. Complaints had been made and they had been ignored. If the people responsible for the investigation work in the same environment and accept the behaviours complained about as normal practice, how can any staff member expect a fair hearing?

The kind of behaviours we are talking about individually may not seem particularly harmful but when you put them together they look like this. Some staff were never greeted , they were ignored, publicly admonished, they were given ridiculous workloads, whenever they applied for leave it was questioned and made difficult, they were patronised, threatened, spied on and micro managed. They speak of work, once a happy environment, now a cause of anxiety and depression, a place to be feared. The company dismissed all the allegations as management style. The workers had just misinterpreted the store manager’s intent. Person after person, time after time.

The Russell McVeigh allegations resulted in the company admitting what The Warehouse won’t. They ( Russell McVeigh) are not the correct people to investigate the culture they created and they  have engaged an external investigator. The Warehouse may not carry the glamour of a large law firm but make no mistake The Warehouse Group are a major player. The Red Sheds alone employ over 7,000 people; the entire group over 14,000. We must hold all employers to account.

If employees say that they have been bullied, at the very least the employer must show them the courtesy of taking their complaints seriously. Bullying and harassment policy will only ever be a platitude until it includes a robust investigation procedure. That procedure must include the use of a mutually agreed external investigator. Then and only then will we see bullying and harassment treated with the seriousness it deserves and maybe we will see a shift in harmful behaviour. If 22 workers claim there is an issue with a manager, the manager’s mates at head office are not impartial. They are complicit.  

 

First Union are meeting with the company to discuss the situation and are considering a range of options to progress the complaints.

 

13 COMMENTS

  1. Snuff him out like a flea — the satisfying pop, blood on the finger. Or, in bureaucratic speak, make him Governor-General of The Warehouse.

    Would an investigative jounrnalist’s report on this business ever but destroy it, Sir Steven Tindall?

  2. Ive worked at twh for 5 years. The kast year has seen the moral drop like a rock. Stephen Tindal either supports this or has walked away. Which one is it.?

    • New leadership, causing loads of problems. I hear the CIO got walked for bullying just last week. So maybe they are making an effort to turn things around

      • Yep. The CUP was escorted from the office last week. I heard fraud though. Surprised it hasn’t been reported as that place peaks like a seive.

      • Yep apparently there were loud cheers when the email went around that Kasbe was leaving

        https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=12119684

        … rumours of at least 4 lawsuits about bullying and inappropriate (maybe sexual) behaviour are rife. Rumours of massive walk outs of senior staff who refused to work with him.

        Not only that, Kabe was rumoured to be given a salary over 1 million and hired cos he worked with former US CEO at bad coffee chain. Now that is the epitome of future IT (sarcasm) You couldn’t write fictional screw up any better…

        Me thinks bad news for NZ business when the powers that be, do their lazy hire of the worst overseas hires at massive rates who destroy the business…. The CEO scoured the world and coincidentally came up with a mate he used to work with in the US who was not a digital specialist and had no understanding or cultural connection with NZ…. funny enough disaster ensues…

        Fonterra and Theo comes to mind as another NZ example of greedy overseas hires destroying NZ company values both monetarily and socially…

  3. Anyone who thinks Stephen Tindall will support victims against bully’s need to remember that in NZ you do not raise to the top by being a fair or nice guy! I have had family members work at twh and the bullying behaviour has been in evidence for at least 20 years, they demanded people arrive before shift starts, cash up/close down was unpaid, they had unpaid meetings, they did everything to keep unions out – these are not the actions of a firm that condemns bullying.

  4. Bullying is rife in Government departments also because the HR departments within them will do almost anything to protect the agency and the manager.
    It’s an absolute disgrace.
    Now we see a minister of the crown at it when she should be the protector of government employees.

    • Correct. And every few years they survey public servants about bullying, cluck about the results, and then do nothing about them.

      If you challenge govt depts and win, as I did twice, then you really have to leave, because in most workplaces there are a 1001 things they can do to make life fairly intolerable.

      Workers thinking they’re embarking on a career path at The Warehouse deserve better – everyone does. Boycott The Warehouse.

  5. The only people who haven’t been bullied in a work place in New Zealand are people who have always worked for themselves. Bullying is endemic in our culture and most people don’t have a clue how to motivate staff except by being hard on them. Maybe some nationwide training to equip people with different motivation techniques would be better than just punishing them (which is just more bulllying).

    Don’t get me started on bullying in schools, which is not taken seriously despite what schools say – or even bullying as a parent style which is the default setting for most New Zealanders.

    • Aaron the only workplace I’ve been bullied in in NZ was a govt dept. All the bullying came from other women – bigger than me- and they shat on three young guys too, all good men, who all quit, and I know where each one is now.

      One told me he was training as a builder and intended returning to Samoa to work there. One married an American girl he met on the internet and now lives happily in the US. My favourite, another young Samoan guy went to Western Australia where his wife’s folks live. He used to covertly fix my computer for me when it was being sabotaged – settings changed, programs uninstalled etc and I paid him in smokes, which I guess makes me a baddie.But there was a camaraderie there.

      This scenario of a workplace male bully tyrannising everybody, women and men, is utterly obscene, as is seeing competent colleagues, women and men, choking back tears – he needs to see a shrink and be kept away from human beings, animals, and plant life – go mixing concrete or picking up rubbish from the sea shore.

  6. Warehouse also just fired their CTO Timothy Kasbe who rumour has it is accused of multiple episodes of bullying staff ever since he joined a little over a year ago. Mu.tiple lawsuits are pending for his behaviour.

  7. Ridiculous Bunnings selling its staff (especially young women) in tv ads but with renownedly bad industrial relations finally, finally getting it and promising them living wages. In a post social-democratic age we wait for all those ignorant b.coms rediscovering what we all knew pre-84 about fairness.

    And on another matter concerning knowledge of NZ , I at least don’t enjoy being greeted and goodbyed at the Bunnings door — another out of touch edict from Oz management again, maybe more suited to them than us. Maybe it’s just Gisborne they do it. My ideal of customer service is a library. As adults we NZers know one another and will edge into each other perfectly comfortably if we need or want to.

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