Newsroom Special Inquiry

Bullied at Parliament -and nobody helped

The independent review into bullying and harassment at Parliament is likely to examine whether Parliamentary Services responded appropriately when staff complained about bullying by MPs.

Melanie Reid and Cass Mason report on the case of one woman who says she received no support when she was bullied by Jami-Lee Ross.

When the Jami-Lee Ross saga exploded just over a month ago, Newsroom reported on the stories of six women who claimed to have been either bullied or harassed by the National MP.

Since then, a seventh woman has spoken to Newsroom about her treatment by Parliamentary Services when she told them Ross was bullying her.

The woman says she made a complaint after she could no long bear it and was advised to resign.

Similar to accounts of others who worked with Ross, the woman said he would make baseless accusations that she was lying and call her incompetent in front of other staff members.

“He made me feel like absolute shit. The stress of the work turned me into an absolute wreck.”

Ross would do things like make her write lines, like a school kid in detention, while he watched.

He did a performance review alongside a senior Parliamentary staff member - whose role was designed to support her - during which she was told repeatedly told over the course of an hour that she “wasn’t fit to do anything”.

The woman described the staff member as the “worst [person] in the world”.

“I would like nothing more than to see them made responsible for some of this.”

She would endure being told she was incompetent and useless in front of other staff, and nothing was done.

“There were times when I would find out that [Ross] had been talking to other staff about me. He would make fun of me to other assistants - ones he liked.”

She even interrupted Ross and another staff member looking at a photo of her on Ross’ phone - and making comments.

The woman eventually went to Parliamentary Services, where she aired her concerns in tears.

“Their only advice to me was to leave. They thought I had a detrimental and toxic relationship and there was nothing I could do but leave. So I did.”

Asked if Parliamentary Services already had knowledge of Ross’ behaviour, the woman told Newsroom that a senior staff member who sat in on her review “heard and saw” everything that happened in the office, and did nothing about it.

“They would just say ‘Look, you’re the one in the wrong here. You’ve been given a great opportunity by giving you a job … [Ross] has done so much for you and this is how you repay him?'

“I wish that they would realise how crazy they were for defending Jami-Lee for everything he did.”

She said the experience changed her whole opinion of Parliament.

Another of the women who spoke to Newsroom earlier this year about how she was treated by Ross says she found a file of information kept on her in Parliament, which was “all lies”.

A recent graduate and a straight-A student, the young woman worked for Ross for a year. She says he bullied and belittled her, using a string of lies to discredit her work.

She eventually became aware of a file of information on her given to officials in Parliament. It targeted her work ethic, honesty and punctuality.

“Every single thing in there was a lie.”

The young woman suffered from major anxiety over the year she worked for in the role, and it took her months to recover.

Now an employer herself, she said: “I would never treat my staff even 1 percent of the way I was treated.”

Parliamentary Services employs more than 700 people – mainly administrative staff to support Members of Parliament.

A health and safety review of Parliamentary Services has been on the cards since the recent incidents involving Labour’s Meka Whaitiri, National’s Todd Barclay and Ross.

A full-scale independent inquiry is likely to reveal some serious problems, with the Speaker, Trevor Mallard, already conceding “incidents have occurred over many years in these buildings, which are unacceptable”.

Mallard says he wants to identify what needs to change to help improve the workplace, with the inquiry providing a set of recommendations.

The review could also look at other tools, like making Parliamentary Services subject to the Official Information Act, or changing the employment contracts by which staff were governed.

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