Members will be aware that the recent heightened media interest in working conditions in Parliament, particularly in alleged instances of harassment, has led to a realisation by political parties and the House authorities that the unregulated status quo is not acceptable.
I am pleased to announce that as a result of this, your Parliamentary Staff Branch has been able to achieve some positive steps forward in negotiation with these bodies.
Thank you to the many of you who completed our recent survey on conditions in Parliament. With over 250 respondents, we were able to use this as the statistical basis to demand that the House authorities address the unacceptable levels of anxiety, stress and bullying here. I presented the results to the House of Commons Commission, and they told me that they were genuinely concerned by what they were told.
The result of this was the agreement to establish the confidential phone line service for MPs’ staff. Having worked with the team to develop this, I am pleased that it will offer legal, financial and other support, as well as being a line for reporting inappropriate behaviour.
This phone line will not resolve all of the issues that we have been raising, but I hope that it is a positive step, and it is a recognition that the Parliamentary authorities have a collective duty of care towards us.
Secondly, we have offered our help to any of the parties that want to ensure that their internal grievance procedures are fair and robust. So far only the Labour Party has chosen to work with us, but we hope that other parties will soon recognise the wisdom of this and acknowledge that voluntary codes simply are not good enough.
We have agreed a system with the Labour Party where standard or contractual grievances and disciplinaries can be considered by a conciliation committee of members of the branch and the PLP. For serious allegations of misconduct there would be an independent panel, whose chair would be appointed by the Chair of the PLP in agreement with us, who would consider these matters.
We are pleased that the PLP has recognised the importance of establishing a robust, independent system that should bring reassurance to both the public and our members as their staff. We hope that these procedures will not need to be followed and that a more professional culture will be established, but we are glad that they are now in place.
I would like to thank all members as ever for your support, and remember that we are only in a position to be involved in these discussions because of our membership – if it were not for our voices united together we would have no choice of being heard.
Max Freedman, Branch Chair