Taking on bullies in the workplace

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The EU must take more concrete measures in the fight against bullying in the workplace, argues Elissavet Vozemberg.

Elissavet Vozemberg is a Greek MEP in the European People’s Party.

A hostile working environment, in which offensive or insulting remarks, persistent criticism, personal abuse, or even physical abuse and threats prevail, is a reality for many employees in both public and private organisations and has become increasingly common in Europe in recent years.

So-called “mobbing” or “bullying in the workplace” encompasses a wide range of interpersonal misconduct and is linked to various forms of discrimination. Moreover, it cannot be disregarded that the focus of bullies often falls on women. Woman-on-woman harassment accounts for 50 percent of all bullying. Unless a woman targeted can claim race or biases, her torment at the hands of another woman likely has no legal remedy. For this reason, many cases go unreported due to the fear of the victims to come forward. The current economic crisis has exacerbated the situation, increasing the frequency of the phenomenon and the intensity of its outbreaks.

In one of my recent parliamentary questions, the European Commission replied by stating that it has already taken concrete measures and actions to prevent this situation, which has received numerous and complex dimensions over the years. More specifically, the social partners BusinessEurope, UEAPME, CEEP and ETUC in 2007 signed an independent agreement on harassment and violence at work. In 2011, they drafted a report on the implementation of this agreement.

In 2015, we expect the Commission to evaluate the situation among the member states according to the above report, with external research, in order to present an overall assessment of the ongoing state of the problem.

However, the forms and the extent of this phenomenon differ from country to country, so it is essential that all member states take measures on an individual level, so as to help, the victims of bullying to begin the healing process. In this regard, victims need to receive specific aid and consultation, in order to overcome the injury sustained and further ensure their smooth reintegration into their workplace.

Above all, precautionary measures should be taken, in order to cut down, if not completely eliminate, bullying in the workplace. Education needs to become more anthropocentric, based on values and the principle of respect for others and the right to differ. People must be able to face their colleagues as companions in life and not as competitors.

As Nikos Kazantzakis, one of Greece’s most famous authors, wrote: “If reality does not take the form that we want, then it is our fault.” And we are proving him right to this day.

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