24 Jan 2019

Bullying and harassment at all levels of Fire and Emergency - review

4:25 pm on 24 January 2019

An independent review has found bullying and harassment at all levels of the Fire and Emergency (FENZ) organisation.

Fire and Emergency chief executive Rhys Jones

Fire and Emergency chief executive Rhys Jones Photo: RNZ / Meriana Johnsen

The review, commissioned by chief executive Rhys Jones and conducted by retired Judge Coral Shaw, found that "there is no doubt that bullying and harassment is a feature of the FENZ workplace at all levels across all regions."

It was reported last December that there were 15 complaints of "inappropriate behaviour" upheld against Fire and Emergency staff in the Southland region.

Bullying and harassment isn't a new issue - an internal audit of the New Zealand Fire Service found bullying and harassment were ongoing concerns.

The issue was also raised at all but one of 17 forums held in 2017 by Women in Fire and Emergency New Zealand.

Management were already aware of "problem areas", but wanted a better understanding, after the creation of NZ Fire and Emergency, chief executive Rhys Jones said.

The organisation was formed in July 2017 from an amalgamation of the New Zealand Fire Service, the National Rural Fire Authority and 38 rural fire districts throughout the country.

"This isn't finger-pointing at what the problems were, it was pointing the direction we want to go so that's the difference between this report and those previous ones," he said.

The report concluded that "there are still barriers to reporting this behaviour" and that bullying and harassment policies, procedures, guidelines and other documents were "not fit-for purpose".

"Managers who deal with complaints most often had little or no education or training in how to manage these often complex and troubling cases.

"Processes and policies are not applied in a consistent way throughout the organisation, and lack transparency."

The report also noted "there are still unacceptable levels of racism, sexism and homophobia."

The organisation accepted all 33 recommendations, including the adoption of a Code of Behaviour, Mr Jones said.

"The first step is to make sure people understand what the correct behaviour is - overtime, if people can't accept that behaviour, or don't follow that behaviour, then they need to leave - we will make them leave."

Almost half of people who responded to the survey (45 per cent) reported witnessing and/or experiencing bullying or harassment in the organisation, and over half (53 per cent ) of those said they did not report it.

However, only 37 cases had been formally processed within the organisation since July 2017.

Mr Jones said it was a matter of building trust so people felt comfortable to report any harassment or bullying.

"The first thing is to build the confidence that people will be taken seriously.

"The processes are in place where they're going to be protected, not victimised. So there's a lot of faith that's going to be built up."

The Fire and Emergency department will monitor and evaluate the implementation of all 33 recommendations over the next three years.

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