The GMB union is calling on Thanet council to implement a new, independent system for dealing with bullying and harassment complaints against senior officers, saying the current methods are ‘compromised beyond further use.’
The call comes in the wake of two grievance complaints filed by TDC staff against top officers during the past six months.
GMB, the union for staff in local government, is asking councillors to replace the current system with a new independent one so that senior officers are held properly accountable when complaints of bullying and harassment are made against them. They say any new system has to be fair for the staff making the complaints but also for the senior staff involved as well as protecting the integrity and good running of Thanet council.
Frank Macklin, GMB Regional Organiser said: “GMB is making this call based on our practical experience of the current system in operation for two GMB members who filed complaints over the past six months. GMB is more than happy to meet with senior elected members in closed sessions to share with them this experience.
“I am confident that they, like GMB, will conclude that the current system of dealing with bullying and harassment complaints against senior officers has been compromised beyond any further use.
“Not recognising this and not replacing it will undermine and threaten the good running and integrity of the council. GMB has experience of new independent systems in other councils for dealing with bullying and harassment complaints against senior officers that are much better.
“GMB is calling on the elected members of Thanet council to adopt a new independent system answerable to elected members to ensure the good running and the integrity of the council.”
A Thanet council spokesperson said: “In dealing with these matters the council follows an agreed formal process. That process protects the rights to a fair hearing for both those bringing the grievance and those who are subject to the complaint.
“Public comments on the matter could either prejudice the process or potentially influence the outcome.”
The appeal follows the grievances by two officers. One of those complainants named both chief executive Madeline Homer and Director of Operational Services Gavin Waite in a list of 10 grievances.
The officer has lodged an appeal over the way his grievance was dealt with, including being unable to see an independent investigator’s report, having the case handled by a current TDC top officer, and no formal action being taken despite one grievance of bullying and harassment being partly upheld, one of a breakdown of working relationship being upheld, and one of suffering work-related stress due to the situation being upheld.
The appeal was submitted to Deputy Chief Executive Tim Willis, who had not been involved in the grievance, but he was suspended from his role last month.
Mr Willis was responsible for overseeing the Housing and Planning service, Communications and Digital, Finance and Procurement and leads digital transformation across the council’s services.
The reason for his suspension has not been confirmed by Thanet council but has caused an uproar with many councillors and local groups demanding his reinstatement. Ramsgate councillor Karen Constantine was reported to the authority’s Standards Committee by chief executive Madeline Homer after commenting on the need for transparency in staffing matters following the suspension.
Cllr Constantine said: “Whilst it would be inappropriate for me to comment on any specific employment issue at TDC, I would like our council and all other councils to aspire to be exemplary employers -putting the health and well-being of all staff first.
“That would include having a robust policy on bullying. Bullying significantly blights peoples lives and all good employers should be taking robust steps to eliminate harassment of this type.
“As I said before, Thanet District Council needs an overarching ‘employment matters’, Committee. This would give councillors an overview of the employment issues in our council at a strategic level.
“I was disappointed to then be bullied for taking that common sense stance by being threatened to withdraw my comment or I would be referred to standards. As I haven’t yet been referred to Standards committee I have written again to our chief executive seeking an apology. I haven’t had a response yet.
“The GMB are right to air this issue in public.”
Mr Willis has been with the authority since 2015. A petition was launched yesterday demanding he is put back in post.
The GMB has said the suspension is concerning and has called for clarity of the situation.