Nearly half of all unionised workers surveyed said their work or income had been adversely affected by Covid-19 with many reporting that they have felt isolated, stressed and vulnerable, a new survey carried out by the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions shows.
Being made redundant, having hours reduced, working more hours without an increase in pay or being forced to use up sick leave over Covid fears were all experiences reported by respondents in the yearly Work Life survey.
Bullying was also identified as a significant issue, with 42 per cent of respondents saying workplace bullying was an issue in their workplace, only marginally down on last year.
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The survey also found there was overwhelming support for the Government’s planned increase in minimum sick leave from five to 10 days, with 94 per cent approval.
Council secretary Melissa Ansell-Bridges said the results showed the working population felt vulnerable at work.
Bullying was so widespread, it needed to be addressed as a structural issue resulting from the imbalance of power between employers and workers, she said.
“There is a similar sense of vulnerability when you dig into people’s responses on the negative effect Covid has had on them. It’s not simply a matter of people losing their jobs, it’s that they’re left with no say in really important issues at work.”
Too many workers had been expected to work unpaid hours, she said.
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Business New Zealand chief executive Kirk Hope challenged the notion that employees were shouldering the burden, noting that employers lost a lot of revenue during lockdown.
Businesses worked with the Government to implement the wage subsidy quickly so that employees could retain their connection to the workplace and continue to be paid something.
Employers had just four days to plan from going to an alert level 2 to alert level 4 for an indefinite period of time. For small to medium-sized businesses the future was uncertain, he said.
“There has to be a balance in that discussion about consultation, particularly when you’ve got a set of circumstances which are forced on businesses.”
Employment law advocate Ashleigh Fechney said workers impacted by Covid-19 comprised a significant majority of her work and the number would probably rise in the future.
In particular, people with disabilities, mental health conditions and autoimmune conditions were likely to be affected by ongoing stress and were likely to need time off and more flexible working arrangements, she said.
Bullying only made up a small proportion of Fechney’s work, highlighting that employees didn’t feel able to raise their concerns.
“The bullying investigation process is an adversarial process, and it’s often handled incorrectly: resulting in a lose-lose situation.
”Many employees don’t even get to the investigation process stage; with some facing retaliatory disciplinary action, or immediately being invited to a without prejudice conversation to discuss a paid exit.”
Muddying the issue was the fact that there was no legal definition of bullying. The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment had released an issues paper on bullying and were seeking public comment, Fechney said.
Bullying ought to be a standalone personal grievance in the same way that discrimination, sexual harassment and racial harassment grievances were, she said.
The issue needed to be taken seriously, but it was also important to realise that it was often a people problem stemming from bad communication and not a legal one, which required looking at it through a social lens, Fechney said.
Hope said if employees felt they were being bullied, they should take it to their employer.
Employment lawyer Susan Hornsby-Geluk said the survey showed it had been a very difficult time for employees, many of whom felt undervalued.
“This highlights the importance of open and transparent communication because the fact is that employers have struggled too, and perhaps some have not involved their employees enough in discussions as to how to get through this,” she said.
Bullying was more likely to occur when people felt stressed and employers needed to watch for signs of bullying, call it out and educate staff on how to raise concerns and seek help, she said.
The one piece of good news on the horizon was the Government’s proposed increase in sick leave, Ansell-Bridges said.
Insufficient sick leave left workers to choose between losing pay or coming to work sick, which wasn’t good for anyone, and the Government needed to move on it quickly, she said.
Fechney said the increase in sick leave was “a no brainer”.
Published at Sun, 17 Jan 2021 08:02:00 +0000