Sunday, 13 January 2008

Assembly Government: A bad week in the life of those in charge

The main Assembly story in the last week has been that of the alleged sexual harassment of a female worker. Mrs Davies story seems to be second in place to Peter Hain's funding dilemma, but nevertheless has filled newspaper columns in the last week of recess.

Mrs Davies has given her story to the Wales on Sunday and it doesn't paint those in charge in a good light. Senior civil servants must be angry that their procedures have been brought into disrepute and Permanent Secretary, Sir Jon Shortridge, must be hoping that his tenure will have a better ending when he leaves in April.

Christine Davies: Life of a woman working for the Assembly Government

SEX pest victim Christine Davies claims sexual harassment and bullying is widespread in the Welsh Assembly – and that women are intimidated by some male bosses on a daily basis.
This week a court upheld a string of allegations made by Mrs Davies against top-ranking civil servant and married dad-of-four Graham Evans. Judge Patrick Curran QC decided that Mr Evans had assaulted his female colleague in a pub loo and made lewd, sexual advances towards her. Mr Evans, 54, from Caerphilly, now faces a hefty legal bill likely to run into thousands of pounds. As well as the case going against him, he has also been ordered to pay Mrs Davies’ legal costs.
In her exclusive interview with Wales on Sunday, Christine:
  • claims sexual harassment and bullying are rife in the Assembly;
  • alleges she was frozen out by her colleagues when she made a formal complaint;
  • says the Assembly covered up the sex assault to prevent bad publicity.
But last night the Assembly rejected the claims, saying:
We have had very few cases raised and our staff surveys, other feedback from employees and our Investors in People assessments do not support the assertion made that bullying and harassment is rife within the organisation.
Speaking from her home in Penarth, where she lives with her husband, Paul, Christine blasted the Assembly and claimed her ordeal was NOT an isolated incident. She believes staff have been harassed and bullied on a regular basis, and that they are afraid to speak out because they fear they will lose their jobs. Christine, 52, who retired from the Assembly in 2006, claimed:
Sexual harassment is rife in the Assembly, and there’s a handful of men who make women’s lives a living hell. The culture at the Assembly is very macho. Some men are very imposing – especially towards the women. They strut around in their suits, they have their in-jokes, and eye up the women. Women in the Assembly are regularly intimidated by a few men who feel they have the right to do what they want – to pass lewd jokes, to look them up and down, to mentally undress them.
Christine claims her life took a turn for the worse when she complained. She said:
I believe I am living proof of what happens when an employee of the National Assembly for Wales shouts ‘sexual assault’. I was transferred out, I lost everything that was my life, I feel I was branded a liar, my health suffered and I felt everything I held dear was turned upside down. I felt everyone turned against me and closed rank on me. One minute people were saying I was worth my weight in gold, but the moment I made my complaint I felt everything was withdrawn and I was totally frozen out. By the end I was on anti-depressants and I dreaded going to work to do a job I loved.
An internal investigation was carried out into Christine’s allegations – but it decided that there was not enough proof to uphold the claims against Mr Evans. But she maintains that the Assembly was desperate to keep the matter quiet in an effort to avoid bad publicity. Christine Davies said:
The Assembly is a cesspit where this kind of thing just gets swept under the carpet. The letter they sent me with the result (of their investigation) wasn’t signed and wasn’t dated. I was told that I couldn’t go back to my job and I would have to be moved to a different part of the Assembly.
Despite the outcome of the investigation, Wales on Sunday has seen letters written by Alistair Davey, the Assembly’s Equal Opportunities Office, admitting that Graham Evans had “not been fully exonerated”. Yet despite the finding, he remains in a high-profile role as a highways chief within the government. Meanwhile, Christine, whose father tragically died just days after the sexual assault, says she believes he guided her to victory in the County Court. She said:
My father was there in the courtroom with me and he’s been there every second of the way. We had a special bond between us and I absolutely adored him. In the court I just kept staring at a photo of my dad. He was smiling back at me – and he’d be so proud of me now. It’s been an uphill struggle. I could not believe that something I’d been fighting for over so many years had actually happened. The reason that the judge’s decision was so important means that now I can reach out to everyone else that’s in the same position. I want the women at the Assembly to say, ‘if you stick your heels in you can win’. I want to give people the courage and the determination to come forward and stand-up for themselves. I never did it for the money. I said to my solicitors that if his lawyer ever tried to reach an out-of-court settlement I didn’t want it – I wanted women to know what this man had done.
An Assembly spokesperson said:
We take any accusation of bullying and harassment very seriously. We have a robust Dignity at Work Policy which includes an initial assessment by a case panel and then an independent investigation into any claim of bullying and harassment – this ensures that matters are thoroughly considered. We have had very few cases raised and our staff surveys, other feedback from employees and our Investors in People assessments do not support the assertion made that bullying and harassment is rife within the organisation. All investigations are dealt with professionally and appropriate legal and medical advice is taken to ensure that cases are properly considered. All decisions are open to appeal. With regards to Mr Evans, we do not comment on issues relating to members of staff.
We know that this is just one side of the coin and I'm positive that the majority of women who work there are content with their working environment, particularly those in certain senior management grades who are doing well in the light of positive discrimination. The Assembly is also a great supporter of women attempting to achieve a fair work-life balance. This is not to say that any such promotion isn't deserved, but Mrs Davies' picture of a woman's life in the Assembly isn't one that most women experience and deal with on a day-to-day basis.
Comments are closed on this post as plenty was said HERE and HERE.

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