Friday, January 11, 2008

Harassment epidemic in European Commission?

What is going on here? The European Commission has put out an (internal) call for applications,
"In the framework of the policy concerning the protection of the dignity of the person and the fight against psychological and sexual harassment at the European Commission, DG ADMIN is launching this call for application in order to extend the network of confidential counsellors to include 20-25 new members".
There are currently 20 counsellors working at the Commission. This is a doubling of the team. Given that the European Commission employs approximately 32,000 staff this is a very high number for any institution. If each counsellor spends approximately 1 hr with a colleague, then shall we say, what with lunch, admin, follow up meetings and so on there will be three a day.

According to the internal staff regulations,
What is psychological harassment?
"Psychological harassment means any improper conduct that takes place over a period, is repetitive or systematic and involves physical behaviour, spoken or written language, gestures or other acts that are intentional and that may undermine the personality, dignity or physical or psychological integrity of any person" (Article 12a of the Staff Regulations).

Psychological harassment can manifest in various forms, in particular by : offensive or degrading comments, pressure, humiliation, even refusal to communicate; insulting or threatening remarks; being isolated, excluded, ignored, disparaged; setting unrealistic working objectives, etc. Such behaviour, while unacceptable, may in isolation appear of little consequence. When occurring on a regular basis, however, such conduct can cause serious harm to the person at whom it is directed.

What is sexual harassment?
"Sexual harassment means conduct relating to sex which is unwanted by the person to whom it is directed and which has the purpose or effect of offending that person or creating an intimidating, hostile, offensive or disturbing environment. Sexual harassment shall be treated as discrimination based on gender" (Article 12a of the Staff Regulations).

Sexual harassment may take different forms (physical, verbal, written or other), and involve persons of the opposite sex and of the same sex. The essential characteristic of sexual harassment is that it is unwanted by the recipient; it is therefore for each individual to determine what behaviour is acceptable to them and what they regard as offensive. Sexual attention becomes sexual harassment if it is persisted in once it has been made clear that it is regarded by the recipient as offensive, although, unlike psychological harassment, a single incident may constitute sexual harassment if it is sufficiently serious (for example, groping).
That would mean that if there are to be 40 councillors that should work out at 120 a day and upwards of 600 such meetings a week. Or Over 1.5% of the entire Commission workforce a week!

Spread out over a year the ramifications of this are manifold. OK take harassment seriously, yes I agree. But hold on here. What this suggests is a problem of seriously epidemic proportions.

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