Council worker: I was bullied

By Amanda Snow

Ex-museum staffer says city can deny the problem exists because it is easy to hide

Raymond Mayes
Raymond Mayes

Hamilton City Council insists it doesn't have a bullying problem - but former staff say that appears to be the case only because the problem is easy to hide.

Last week, the Herald on Sunday revealed that Julie Mayes had asked a coroner to investigate whether the death of her husband, science educator Dr Raymond Mayes, was triggered by workplace bullying at the council's Waikato Museum.

The council said it had had no complaints of workplace bullying at the museum in the past three years, but a former employee has spoken out, outraged at that claim.

The woman, who insisted her name not be used in print, said: "I totally dispute that. I was bullied and I know of two other complaints that were also made within the museum."

She said she left the job this year because of "burn out" and an increased workload. "When I told them 'this is too much', I was yelled at and not listened to."

The former worker claimed bullying wasn't being accurately recorded, enabling management to deny a problem existed.

Council chief executive Barry Harris acknowledged that cuts at the museum had put people under stress, but said work programmes and "expected outputs" were altered to reflect the level of staff available.

He said the review meant eight fewer positions - from 46 people to 38 - but overall the equivalent of 34 fulltime positions was maintained, the same as before the restructure.

Barry Harris
Barry Harris

Some staff had taken advantage of council-supplied counselling through its employee assistance programme, but the museum numbers were not provided.

Of the entire council staff, 154 had had counselling sessions in the past three years.

Another council worker who contacted the Herald On Sunday said the environment was so toxic she had negotiated a confidential settlement to leave.

It was a year and a half before she could face going back into the city and anywhere near the council building.

She said staff had taken leave because of stress - but as it was recorded as sick leave, the extent of the problem could be hidden.

"So again, it's another area where you don't have any early warning data."

But Harris insisted there was no culture of bullying at the council, in fact "quite the opposite".

A recent staff survey had shown a 12 per cent increase in staff engagement over the past year.

"We take bullying seriously and have invested significant effort to continually improve our anti bullying and harassment systems."

About 220 council staff had taken anti-bullying and harassment training in the past year.

Harris did confirm that four bullying complaints - not from the museum - had been investigated by an external consultant in the past year. Three were found to have no substance and one was still under investigation.

Council officials had met unions this week over the museum situation and it had been productive, he said.

- Herald on Sunday

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