One in six UK civil servants report bullying by ministers; Australia releases psychosocial guidance for government workplaces: management & workforce news in brief

By on 02/03/2023 | Updated on 02/03/2023

Global Government Forum’s weekly digest of the news you need to know but might have missed.

One in six UK civil servants report bullying by ministers

One in six UK civil servants have witnessed unacceptable behaviour by ministers in the last 12 months, according to a survey by the FDA union.

The FDA, which represents senior civil servants, has called for an investigation into the way the civil service deals with complaints of bullying and harassment against ministers, with 70% of survey respondents saying they had no confidence in the process.

FDA general secretary Dave Penman said cases of bullying and harassment at the hands of ministers were “going unchecked across Whitehall” and “could no longer be dismissed as isolated incidents”.

One survey respondent said “successive prime ministers have either lied, covered up, or ignored clear instances of bullying/harassment by ministers”, while another said there was no fair or objective process and that civil servants were “terrified to speak out”.

Penman said that while parliament – which “faced the same endemic problem” – had introduced a fully independent process for dealing with complaints against MPs, as had the Scottish government, the British prime minister “still refuses to do so”.

“As our report makes clear, the consequences of a culture where bullying and harassment goes unchallenged is not only the toll it takes on the health and wellbeing of civil servants, but crucially it also undermines their ability to speak truth unto power,” Penman said, pointing to the survey’s finding that a third of respondents did not feel confident about giving frank advice. The figure rose to half among those who had witnessed unacceptable behaviour.

He said the civil service was failing in its legal obligation to keep employees safe from harm and that the FDA had called on the Heath and Safety Executive (HSE) – a government agency responsible for enforcing and encouraging workplace health, safety and welfare – to investigate bullying by ministers. It has submitted its survey report as evidence.

In a letter sent to the HSE chief executive last week, Penman mentioned two prominent allegations of bullying by ministers. Deputy prime minister and secretary of state for justice Dominic Raab is currently being investigated for a series of allegations against him – it has been reported that he faces complaints by at least 24 civil servants.  

In an earlier case, Sir Philip Rutnam resigned as permanent secretary of the Home Office in early 2020, alleging bullying by then home secretary Priti Patel. Rutnam, who had been a civil servant for more than 30 years, accused Patel  of “shouting and swearing, belittling people, and making unreasonable and repeated demands” and of mounting a “vicious and orchestrated” campaign of media briefings against him.

A Cabinet Office inquiry into Patel’s behaviour found that she had broken the ministerial code of conduct but then prime minister Boris Johnson rejected the findings.

Rutnam lodged legal proceedings against Patel for unfair constructive dismissal, which the government reportedly settled with a £340,000 (US$406,000) payout.

Both Raab and Patel deny the allegations against them.

Read more: Former UK civil service chief says home secretary should resign

Australia releases psychosocial guidance for government workplaces   

The Australian Capital Territory, which includes Canberra, has produced a guide on psychosocial risks for public service agencies in a bid to improve working environments.

Psychosocial refers to the impact that psychological factors and the social environment have on people’s physical and mental wellness.

The guide – which is available on the Work Safe Australia website – outlines psychosocial hazards and risks, encourages agencies to monitor risks and identify gaps, promotes preventing hazards through the monitoring of indicator data, and sets out managers’ and employees’ roles in promoting mental wellbeing in the workplace. It also includes links to other tools and resources.

Read more: Australian voters want government to prioritise wellbeing over law and order

In a LinkedIn post promoting the guide, Damien West, the deputy director general for workplace capability and governance, and for workplace safety and industrial relations, wrote “we all understand that poor workplace mental health can have significant costs for our workplace and for individuals”.

He described the guide as a “fantastic resource” and said it demonstrated the Australian Capital Territory Public Service’s “commitment to providing good work for all our employees”.

Read more: Australia’s ‘wellbeing budget’ inspired by New Zealand – with related targets to come

The guide aligns with the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and complements the 2019-2022 ‘Healthy minds – thriving workplaces’ strategy.

ACT head of service Kathy Leigh wrote for the strategy document that because people were “our greatest asset”, workplaces should positively impact and support the mental health of public servants.

“We need to prioritise mental health in all aspects of our business. [The strategy] will create this focus, coordinate our efforts to improve mental health and wellbeing, and hold us accountable for what we set out to achieve,” Leigh said.

“We all have a role to play in improving the mental health and wellbeing of people in our workplaces. For us to change the way we think, talk and act about mental health, our workplaces must make peoples’ mental health and wellbeing a priority,” she said.

The ACT published its inaugural Strategy for Managing Work-Related Psychosocial Hazards in 2021, aimed at all employers in the region. It has also recently released its Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2023-2033.

Training course: Wellbeing and stress – building resilience in remote, hybrid and office-based teams

Malaysian budget does not address civil servants’ high living costs, union says  

Malaysia’s latest budget fails to address government employees’ concerns over high living costs, according to Cuepacs, a consortium of civil service unions.  

Cuepacs president Adnan Mat also questioned the government’s commitment to re-evaluating the current renumeration system and called for a replacement of the 20-year-old model.   

“The salary and wage factor is a critical matter at this point as the current rate is seen as no longer relevant to the increase in living costs which have risen so sharply, especially involving basic necessities such as food, health and housing,” Mat said.

He said numerous previous governments had reviewed the civil service renumeration system “but without any good news”.

The budget tabled by the country’s prime minister Anwar Ibrahim last week includes a one-off payment of 700 Malaysian Ringgits (US$156) for civil servants in grade 56 and below, and 350RM (US$78) for retirees.

Mat added that the government’s move to cut individual tax rates would not have any meaningful effect on disposable income. “The excess of up to 1,300RM [US$290] in disposable income through tax reductions does not reflect the real situation of the people,” he said, as reported by Malaysia Now.

Cuepacs – which includes more than 100 civil service unions with some 1.2 million members – has also called for the government to bring back the affordable home purchase schemes implemented by previous administrations.

“Civil servants are not asking for free housing because we are willing to buy homes, but with our current salary rates, the prices offered by developers are ridiculous,” he said. 

In the face of the cost-of-living crisis, civil and public services around the world are planning strike action over pay and benefits including Canada, New Zealand and the UK.

Read more: 9% three-year pay rise recommended for Canadian public servants – as strike ballot gets underway

Want to write for GGF? We are always looking to hear from public and civil servants on the latest developments in their organisation – please get in touch below or email [email protected]

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

One Comment

  1. Lessons Learnt says:

    Bullying and harrassment are part and parcel of being employed by the government. If those at the top are complaining what about those at the bottom? I took DWP to court and lost. I didn’t earn enough to get a legal advisor so i had to represent myself. It was an intimidating but necessary experience. How do we change things if we don’t challenge it? Now i’ve started a podcast because a change has to come:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *