LABOR/RIGHTS-SPAIN: FIGHTING BULLYS IN THE WORKPLACE
Story Filed: Tuesday, October 22, 2002 6:56 PM EST MADRID, Oct 21, 2002 (Inter Press Service via COMTEX) -- Sixteen percent of workers in the European Union (EU) suffer psychological harassment or "mobbing" on the job, according to a new study by the University of Alcal de Henares, in Spain. In the case of Spain, one out of three employees has suffered psychological aggression or emotional violence in the workplace "at some point in their career," sociologist Angel Crcova told IPS. Crcova is the delegate named by the General Confederation of Workers Commissions, one of Spain’s central trade unions, to the working group set up by the EU to study the issue. The results of the university study were summarized for IPS by Bernabe Tierno Jimenez, a psychologist, educator and writer who has won the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Medal of Honour. Tierno Jimenez explained that mobbing—also described as "psy! chological terror", "ganging up on someone", or "bullying"—occurs when one or more employees in a company or institution psychologically mistreats another worker for a prolonged period of time. The phenomenon consists of "malicious, nonsexual, nonracial, general harassment" including "rumor, innuendo, intimidation, humiliation, discrediting, and isolation" that leads "to the psychological destruction of the individual, and causes problems like stress, depression, irritability, headaches, diarrhea or poor sleep." Since mobbing is an emotional injury that impacts a target’s mental and physical health, it has begun to be addressed in Europe as a workplace safety and health issue. According to another definition, "Mobbing in working life involves hostile and unethical communication which is directed in a systematic manner by one or more individuals, mainly toward one individual, who...is pushed into a helpless and defenseless position and held there by means of continued! " bullying. "These actions occur on a very frequent basis (at least once a week) and over a long period of time (at least six months’ duration). Because of the high frequency and long duration of hostile behavior, this maltreatment results in considerable mental, psychosomatic and social misery." All of this "will inevitably have negative effects on the individual’s home and work life," said Tierno Jimenez, who presented his book "Values in the Workplace" last week. The harassers can be co-workers, subordinates or superiors, he pointed out. "Mobbing is the number one work-related threat faced by workers," noted Inaki Pinuel, a professor of psychology at Alcal de Henares, Spain’s oldest university. Crcova advocates passage of legislation against mobbing, in order to allow action to be taken without the victim having to go to court, with the exception of extreme cases. Since no such law exists in Spain, victims of mobbing have no choice but to turn to the justice system, ! where cases can drag on and on—a situation that deters many people from filing lawsuits. But Crcova said there are a number of strong legal precedents, "since in almost all of the cases that have come to court, the judges have classified them as ‘workplace accidents’, and forced companies to pay indemnification." In July, Spain’s Supreme Court ordered the municipal government of Coria, in the western province of Cceres, on the border with Portugal, to pay 4,500 euros ($4,400) in compensation to an employee who was forced to work in a basement, with neither daylight nor ventilation. The judges classified the case as one of "moral harassment." Another case occurred across the country, in the northeastern city of Gerona, on Spain’s Mediterranean coast, where a tool company was sentenced to pay 14,000 euros ($13,700) for "biased psychological pressure," and another 30,000 euros ($29,400) in compensation for psychological damages. The employee was forced to do work that d! id not fall within his job description, and which was below his qualification level. The working group failed to reach an agreement that could lead to adoption of an EU-wide statute against mobbing, due to the opposition of business associations, which were backed by the governments of Spain, Britain and Italy. The bloc’s trade unions, however, lobbied for anti-mobbing regulations, with the support of the governments of Germany, France and the Netherlands, said Crcova. Business representatives in Spain refused to explain why they were opposed to such a statute, and government spokespersons said the question was still being studied. Tierno Jimenez maintained that in Spain there is a legal basis for demanding legislation that would regulate the phenomenon, since article four of the country’s "workers’ statute" regulates the duties and responsibilities of businesses, such as "ensuring the physical and psychological integrity of workers, and respect for their privacy, dignity and ! emotional" well-being. He stressed that if the company management fails to live up to these obligations, "the worker has the right to indemnification amounting to 45 days of pay per year worked in the company." The question now, said Tierno Jimenez, is to get Spain and the rest of the European Union to adopt regulations against mobbing, which could be enforced by labor ministries in the bloc without the need to wait for legal rulings, and which would make it possible to raise awareness among workers of their right to fight psychological harassment or bullying.