NUJ welcomes code of behaviour for Parliament
© Mark Thomas
17 July 2018
The NUJ has welcomed a new code of behaviour by a cross-party working group to establish a new independent complaints and grievance procedure, in response to reports of sexual harassment and bullying in Parliament.
The group was set up in November to create a grievance process after a series of scandals in Westminster and a survey of more than 1,300 parliamentary workers which found that 19 per cent had experienced or witnessed sexual harassment or inappropriate behaviour in the previous year, with twice as many complaints from women than men.
But the NUJ said Parliament would benefit by negotiating proper employment practices with the unions.
Andrea Leadsom, Leader of the House of Commons, said the plan proposed offered an official path of grievance and would be entirely independent. If approved by Parliament, two helplines, one for bullying and harassment allegations, and a second for sexual harassment or sexual violence would be set up. The code, which covers all workers in Parliament, says: "Recognise your power, influence or authority and don’t abuse them." The working group's report said training will be available for those who employ or manage others and that cultural changes will be needed to make the new code work.
The report said the rules would not apply to behaviour before June 2017; however complainants will be able to record incidents.
Emily Cunningham, NUJ rep for SNP Westminster staff, said:
"This report brings to life the truly ground-breaking document published by the Working Group on an Independent Complaints and Grievance Policy earlier this year. It is my hope that if successfully implemented these procedures could set the benchmark for legislatures across the world. The key thing to remember is that this is about a meaningful and long-term cultural change, not only in Parliament, but in the political arena. The new behaviour code and plans for cultural change initiatives will ensure that the ethos of this report is embedded in the fabric of Parliament as a workplace.
"As noted in paragraph 96 of the report, I and other colleagues on the steering group wanted to see the new scheme being applied to historical allegations as much as was possible, based on the evidence provided. The legal advice we received suggested this would throw up problems and I understand the compromise set out in the paper, which seeks to ensure victims can benefit from the support and advice of this new scheme as well as have their voices heard by the proposed historic allegations inquiry. I hope that the six-month review will look at what support has been provided to those with historic allegations and if those victims feel that they have achieved closure, and if not what we can do to make this happen.
"However this does not undermine what has been achieved. I am confident that every single member of the steering group was working tirelessly to ensure this new scheme will be as inclusive as possible. We are all professionally and personally committed to making a really positive change and empowering people to feel confident and safe working in politics. The staff involved in this process have worked tirelessly to ensure the steering group have been kept fully abreast of developments and options for how we could make the Report of the Working Group a reality. They deserve enormous thanks for the work they put in and the work they continue to do to put this scheme in place.”
Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:
"This report is positive step in Parliament putting its house in order by having an official grievance procedure and the union urges MPs to vote to accept it. It is evident that the problem has been caused in part by powerful people behaving appallingly without being held to account.The union has had to deal with a number of serious cases of members working in Parliament. Unions must be allowed to play a positive role in protecting their members and negotiating proper employment practices once the proposals are agreed by Parliament."