Northern Ireland news

MEA council says it takes union concerns seriously after Nipsa survey on bullying

The council has been embroiled in months of controversy following its contentious decision to temporarily remove Brexit-related staff from Larne Port in February. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire

ALMOST two in three staff on a council mired in controversy have experienced "bullying and/or harassment at work", according to a survey by their union.

Nipsa, which represents almost 300 members in Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, has published the results of a survey it carried out following a series of allegations.

The survey sample represents around 12 per cent of the workforce.

Official Alan Law said the initial findings "should rock the council to its core".

The union has called for "urgent reform to bring about a culture change where staff feel able to raise concerns".

He said that 61 per cent of respondents claimed they had been bullied with 79 per cent of Nipsa members feeling that reporting concerns would impact career prospects.

The union claims staff who have left the council have been made to sign "confidentiality agreements" and called for them to be set aside.

"It is only through transparency can this organisation do better," Mr Law said.

"The political leadership must act immediately and ensure change occurs and is sustained."

A council spokesperson said it is "taking the concerns raised by Nipsa extremely seriously" and has "a zero-tolerance approach to bullying and harassment in the workplace, and a wide range of procedures are already in place for such concerns to be voiced, investigated and for those who raise them to be fully supported by the organisation".

Just 11 per cent of respondents said they felt "supported by council", with 32 per cent giving details of bullying they have experienced.

Eighty-seven per cent of workers did not think that their employer takes bullying and harassment complaints seriously, with just 15 per cent saying they do not think there is "a culture of bullying and harassment".

Just 19 per cent of those questioned believe the council is "likely/very likely" to take their concerns about workplace bulling and harassment seriously.

Meanwhile, 83 per cent said they do not feel confident "concerns would be investigated and action taken if upheld"

There was a demand for "independent investigations" and an examination of "absenteeism/staff turnover".

A meeting was arranged yesterday afternoon "by senior management" and the council says it is "continuing to seek an urgent meeting with union representatives to discuss these matters".

"One incident of alleged bullying and harassment is one too many at Mid and East Antrim Borough Council," a spokesman said.

"Appropriate processes are in place to ensure staff who raise such matters are fully supported."

The snapshot of internal council relations comes a week after it emerged Mid and East Antrim Council chief executive Anne Donaghy is on sickness leave for stress.

She has faced calls to resign over a letter she sent to the British government on the advice of three DUP MPs raising security concerns over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The council has been embroiled in months of controversy following its contentious decision to temporarily remove Brexit-related staff from Larne Port in February.

A Stormont agriculture committee report criticised the "quality and credibility" of some of its evidence.

Mid and East Antrim council voted last month to refer itself to a public services watchdog over claims it had "misled" the inquiry.

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