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2007 Health Care Service Group Conference
20 December 2006
Carried as Amended

Conference welcomes UNISON’s excellent work in highlighting the issue of bullying and harassment.

Bullying and harassment is one of the leading causes of stress and ill health in the workplace. Bullying is unacceptable, offensive, intimidating, malicious, insulting or humiliating behavior. It is an abuse of power that attempts to undermine staff. Harassment is conduct that is unwanted and affects the individual’s dignity.

Health at work is one of the key components of the Improving Working Lives (IWL) Standard. In addition the recent court judgment, upheld by the House of Lords, that Guys and St Thomas Hospital was vicariously liable for the homophobic bullying a worker had experienced by their line manager, shows the penalties employers face if they don’t tackle this issue. Although recourse to the law is always a last resort, such judgments give UNISON Health branches the opportunity to pressure NHS employers into treating bullying and harassment as a serious threat to the health and safety of staff. As such employers have a responsibility to consult with trade union safety reps on such matters. This should involve creating and implementing initiatives, which lead to ownership both of the problem and the solution.

Policies should be in place that give a clearer understanding of what bullying and harassment is, including examples of what is deemed as unacceptable behavior. They should also lay down procedures, ranging from informal approaches to disciplinary action. Those accused of such behavior should have the right to answer any allegations, and also wherever possible the opportunity to modify their behavior.

Conference notes that the NHS Employers’ guidance on bullying was produced without proper and full consultation. Although Conference welcomes the recognition by NHS Employers of the need to tackle bullying, it is also important they realise that producing such guidance is not enough, and that it is meaningless unless it has the full support and ownership of trade unions and their members. It is also important they draw on the work of organisations such as ACAS that have considerable expertise in this area.

Conference therefore calls on the Health Group Executive to:

1.Work through the Staff Council sub-group on Health and Safety to ensure NHS Employers and the Department of Health act in full partnership with the trade unions on current and any future initiatives to tackle bullying and harassment;

2.Urge UNISON Health branches throughout the four countries of the United Kingdom to put pressure on employers to:

a)Ensure that management is aware of their responsibilities to tackle any cases of bullying in the workplace, including their responsibility to consult with trade unions, and of the legal consequences of them not doing so;

b)Produce, and if necessary amend, bullying and harassment policies that give all staff a clearer understanding of what bullying and harassment is and of the procedures that should be used to tackle these issues. Reference can be made to the Partnership Information Network Guideline Dignity at Work: Eliminating Bullying and Harassment from the workplace” detailed in Annex V of the Agenda for Change Handbook;

c)Amend or produce disciplinary policies so that they treat bullying and harassment as an act of misconduct;

d)Pursue initiatives to tackle bullying that have the support and ownership of staff and their trade union representatives.