Wednesday, July 24, 2024
5.5 C


My Account

- Advertisement -

SWDC staff attacked and bullied

Over the past two years, staff at South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] have reported more than 24 serious instances of bullying and harassment by members of the public, with many more unreported.

Extreme examples included being physically attacked, verbally abused, and even getting stalked. One staff member had a drink poured over them in public.

Paul Gardner, SWDC General Manager of HR and Corporate Services, described their experiences.

“Staff sometimes deal with yelling, swearing, name-calling, threats to people’s personal property, threats of violence, false accusations on social media, and physical assaults. One such incident included a drink being thrown over a staff member while they were socialising.

“Another disturbing incident involved a staff member being stalked. While it didn’t happen at their home, it did involve them being messaged on their personal Facebook account, and then they faced a barrage of abuse.”

On another occasion, sexual comments were made in person to a female staff member.

“Our reality is that our staff experience rude and often abusive interactions on a weekly basis which at some times of the year can be daily. Some members of our community can sometimes lose sight of the humanity of council staff. Over the last two years, there have been more than two dozen reported cases of verbal abuse,” he said.

“If we were to record every situation or interaction, we would have far more than those listed.”

Gardner said staff frequently also dealt with rude phone calls and heated meetings.

Recently elected SWDC mayor Martin Connelly was disturbed to hear about the behaviours and had asked to be personally told about these in the future.

“I say to those people who think abusing others is an OK thing to do, that it is not an OK thing to do. If you have problems with a council decision, you need to speak to the people responsible for making that decision – your mayor and councillors,” he said.

“You will change nothing by being rude to those who carry out council decisions on our behalf; we may be able to resolve problems if you come and talk to me.”

Wairarapa MP Kieran McAnulty, the Associate Minister for Local Government, said such behaviour was unacceptable. “As a former council worker myself, I know how hard councils staff work. A lot is asked of them. They often have no influence on the policies that are set but are the ones that must face dissatisfied ratepayers. Yet they get up every morning to work on behalf of the community.

“There is no excuse for abuse and threats towards council workers or anyone for that matter. It is totally unacceptable, and I hope the workers are being given support at this time,” he said.

Gardner said SWDC staff were not alone.

“From speaking with our colleagues in other councils, we are no different, it seems, to what other council staff experience across the country.”

Some cases were reported to the police, and warnings were issued as a consequence.

Others had been served with orders excluding them from SWDC premises.

An exclusion order could relate to single premises or all SWDC premises and last up to two years.

At least one staff member had left SWDC after negative experiences dealing with the public, and others took leave.

“Members of staff have had to take time off from work because they have been physically or verbally attacked,” Gardner said.

About 85 per cent of SWDC staff lived in the district.

Gardner said that while SWDC aimed to provide a healthy and safe working environment, staff often had a difficult role operationalising unpopular decisions.

“We acknowledge the nature of our business is such that it can lead to some customers not agreeing with some of the decisions that are made.

“As a responsible employer, we have done considerable work with our staff on our organisational values and culture, and every day, our staff uphold these values by doing the best job that they can do.”

Gardner hoped that better engagement between SWDC and the wider community would help facilitate working constructively through problems in the future.

“Our view is that there is never any room for poor behaviour or aggression.”

Related Articles

- Advertisement -
few clouds
5.5 ° C
5.5 °
5.5 °
90 %
11 %
7 °
14 °
15 °
14 °
14 °