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Workplaces. July 28, 2017

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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This is hugely grim, George Cheese, a young mechanic who hung himself, in part over abusive behaviours at his workplace. Reading the piece some time ago and seeing just how abusive the behaviours were it is difficult to quite understand the Coroners summing up…

[he] called some of the staff members’ behaviour unacceptable in a narrative verdict delivered on Thursday, but said the company had made significant changes. The 18-year-old’s death was attributable to numerous factors, including his fears over his health and a failing relationship with his former girlfriend, who was deemed to be blameless, Bedford said.

Perhaps it is me, but surely ‘significant changes’ subsequent to events like these are insufficient?

George’s line manager, Simon Wright, who admitted to playing a number of pranks on George, told the inquest: “I was in the workshop when a prank was played on George and he was set on fire.
“It did not go too far. We knew where to draw the line,” he said.
“It was not bullying.”

And:

He said that several of the things he had done to George, such as locking him in the boot of a car and hosing him down with a pressure cleaner, were things most of the apprentices were subjected to and that they would always be laughing at the end.

And:

Mr Kindeleit told the coroner that when George’s parents had approached him to talk about the abuse, George had been sitting in a corner of the room with his head down and had later told him that he did not wish to make a formal complaint.
Based on this, Mr Kindeleit said he had concluded that George was making it up and said he would not have been surprised if the story was completely fabricated by the “troubled individual.”

But…

However, Mr Kindeleit did not deny that he had witnessed George being locked in a cage and set on fire and had reacted by laughing and walking away, but he could not recall telling George’s parents about this at the meeting.

Shouldn’t that and the actions described have carried some further weight? And the blanket denials of colleagues of any involvement in these issues is deeply troubling. It doesn’t speak of ‘significant changes’. There’s a further troubling aspect. George Cheese, the young man, suffered from ‘some degree of mental ill heath since 14 or 15’ according to the Coroner, but so what? The level of abusive behaviours he suffered went far beyond what most of us have experienced and would tip many of us into depression and worse. And taking medication, as he did, would be no substitute for an abuse free workplace. No amount of pills taken will wash away bruises.

I can’t help but feel that the reality of what happened to Cheese has been very much downplayed and one’s heart goes out to him and his.

There’s a broader issue. We can sometimes be overly rosy about workers and working live.s There’s a reality that workplaces can, some – not all, be difficult places. There can be, again in some, not all, racism, endemic sexism, bullying, indifference and so forth. I know myself a couple where it was a strain, a real strain, to go into – I don’t mean due to the usual reasons one might have, but instead low level bullying, veiled sexual harassment, cliquish behaviours, or whatever. And not from management or bosses either. I was fairly lucky, I’ve a thick skin and like my own company so stuff like that troubled me less than others – though if locked in cages and set fire too… well, that would be something else. But one would see behaviours directed towards others that were problematic too (though nothing approaching what is described here). Usually this was exercised against younger and newer workers, for obvious reasons – bullying is easier against them, they’re less likely to complain, they have fewer networks and allies and so on. Though I also saw similar in third level institutions, now I come to think of it.

And walking away can be easier said than done. One finds a job, one tends to want to keep it and have a fear of having to take the plunge again. And there’s the financial aspects as well. Given the centrality of work to life in this period the distinction between workplace and prison – or worse – can seem, in these instances, blurred.

None of this is to say that every prank or every jibe is bullying. Obviously not. But anything that inflicts actual hurt as distinct from mild embarrassment is – particularly if it is a pattern. And again, what is described here is far far beyond that.

By the way, almost needless to say, no word of a union. For vCheese there was no one at all in his corner, whether amongst his fellow workers or the management, and no one he could call upon to directly intervene.

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Comments»

1. crocodileshoes - July 28, 2017

‘Pranks’ – the witticisms of the witless.

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WorldbyStorm - July 28, 2017

Yep. Vile isn’t it?

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2. roddy - July 29, 2017

Everybody in a workplace should be told that bullying = dismissal.

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WorldbyStorm - July 29, 2017

+1

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3. bjg - July 30, 2017

Here’s a piece from Rick https://flipchartfairytales.wordpress.com/2017/07/27/the-tribunal-fees-case-and-why-we-still-need-unions/ ending thus:

Unions are unfashionable at the moment but so far, no-one has come up with anything better. The courts and the law can only go so far. The law does not offer much protection unless you can use it and to do that you need help. If you really want to stop the powerful from walking all over you then you need some good people around you. It was the lesson that Hugh Grant’s selfish and hedonistic character learnt in About a Boy – you need backup. When it comes to disputes at work, a trade union is still the best backup you can get.

However, there is other important stuff in the article, notably a warning to HMG that escaping the ECJ might not leave ministers free to do what they want. Here’s a quote from within the article:

[T]he protections offered by EU law, insofar as they are relevant, offer at least a form of guarantee of rights — even in the face of parliamentary sovereignty. But that guarantee is now approaching its expiry date, thanks to the UK’s impending departure from the EU, and its extrication from the constraining forces of EU law and the EU judicature. This, in turn, places renewed focus upon the capacity of domestic constitutional law to safeguard fundamental rights and rule-of-law values. Viewed in that light, the Supreme Court’s decision in Unison is certainly a powerful restatement of what the rule of law requires in this context — and of the courts’ preparedness to go as far as they constitutionally can in upholding it.

I’ve been away and perhaps you’ve already discussed the Unison judgement, but this seems important to me.

bjg

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WorldbyStorm - July 30, 2017

I’ve been away too and I’m not sure it was discussed, so much appreciated for raising it.

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