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Irish workplaces among worst in Europe for bullying

Trade union SIPTU deals with a ‘substantial’ number of bullying cases but said a legal definition of it is needed in Ireland if victims are to get any justice.

Image: bullies image via Shutterstock

BULLYING DOESN’T JUST happen in schools and for some adults it can completely disrupt their working lives with many suffering psychological, and sometimes physical, abuse in their jobs.

A new study published yesterday found that Ireland is seventh on the list of countries with the most workplace bullying, with almost 6 per cent of workers saying they have experienced it. The level of physical violence at work is also high by European standards and sexual harassment is now at just over one per cent.

The data shows that incidences of physical violence have declined while bullying or harassment and unwanted sexual attention remains consistent.

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‘Substantial amount’

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, SIPTU’s head of legal rights and membership information Tom O’Driscoll said the biggest problem in Ireland is that there is no legal definition of bullying, which can prevent people from being able to take action when they are targeted.

Those experiencing general harassment or sexual harassment can go to the Equality Tribunal to make their case but there is currently no statute dealing with bullying.

“We get quite a few bullying cases,” he said. “At any given time we’d have over one hundred and that goes from month to month. It’s a very substantial amount”.

O’Driscoll said bullying mainly comes from managers or those in positions of power but can be ‘colleague on colleague’.

“It can be physical abuse but it’s usually abusive name-calling, putting undue pressure on people, singling people out, commenting on their performance – unnecessary stuff,” he explained.

There’s a certain stigma attached to it and a sense of vulnerability and weakness. A person feels they can’t fend for themselves and these are natural reactions to that kind of behaviour.

The union has systems in place to address bullying and support those who experience it but O’Driscoll said this is something “the State really should be doing”.

“Unfortunately, when you don’t have a statutory definition, most litigation from bullying is manifested in a personal injury claim and that is costly, traumatic and takes a long time,” he said.

Targeted groups

Further findings in the Europe-wide study found that women in the 30-49 age bracket are most likely to experience bullying or harassment at work, followed by men aged 15 to 29.

Those most likely to be sexually harassed in their jobs are women aged 15-29.

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In general, exposure to workplace harassment or bullying is higher in France and the Benelux countries while the countries with the lowest levels of exposure to bullying are Bulgaria, Poland and Italy. However the authors of the research pointed out that the way in which terms are defined in different countries may have an impact on the findings.

Read: Young employee dubbed ‘Virgin Mary’ by supervisors wins sexual harassment case>

Column: Making lewd remarks to women on the street is not ‘banter’>

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