One Voice Against Bullying Conference

  • Hon Iain Lees-Galloway
Workplace Relations and Safety


  • Thank you for giving me the opportunity to participate in your conference, One Voice Against Bullying.
  • I can think of no better reason to work together than to promote a safe and positive culture that prevents bullying and intolerance.


  • Bullying is not ok and has to stop.
  • We need to promote a culture that is inclusive, kind and respectful, in every forum – school, work and home.
  • So I applaud you for bringing together people from diverse perspectives.
  • Everyone has a role in stopping bullying.

[Story about young girl supporting another student from being bullied and filmed]

  • I can share with you today, some of the work going on in Workplace Relations and Safety portfolio to prevent workplace bullying and support people’s wellbeing.

Bullying at work

  • In the work context, bullying can be a health and safety issue, an employment issue, and in some cases, a crime.
  • We have a lot of work to do to ensure that workplaces are good places to be, they follow good practices and follow the law.
  • Bullying and harassment is a serious and common work risk. Studies suggest that between one in five and one in three New Zealand workers report bullying or harassment annually. This is not acceptable.
  • All employers are responsible for providing a safe workplace under the Health and Safety at Work Act.
  • That includes ensuring workplaces are free from bullying and harassment and the harm arising from work cultures that don’t call them out.
  • If bullying happens at work, businesses have a responsibility to deal with it and prevent it happening again.

What government agencies do

  • Firstly, the Health and Safety legislation makes it clear that all employers are responsible for providing a safe workplace under the Health and Safety at Work Act.
  • That includes being free from bullying and harassment. If it happens they have a responsibility to deal with it and prevent it.
  • If someone is being bullied at work, they need to take it up with their employer. This can be difficult for people, we suspect many people don’t feel able to speak up and we need to work on how we make it easier.
  • WorkSafe has a role – as the health and safety regulator – to support businesses to create work cultures that protect workers health.
  • WorkSafe has a bullying prevention toolbox. It obviously has a workplace focus and has useful information about what bullying can look like, and advice on what to do if somebody is being bullied. 
  • MBIE also has role. Its free mediation service can help resolve employment disputes related to bullying and harassment.
  • The Employment Relations Authority can help resolve personal grievances related to bullying and harassment.
  • I have also instructed officials at MBIE to prepare an Issues Paper on bullying and harassment at work.
  • Over the past year or so, WorkSafe has increased its focus on mental health in its harm prevention work.
  • Mental wellbeing at work requires multi-faceted initiatives and there is a need to build a greater evidence base to inform future policy decisions.

Government changing from GDP to Wellbeing

  • As you will know, the Government is focussed on lifting wellbeing of New Zealanders.
  • Just a few months ago, the New Zealand Government released its first Wellbeing Budget. It is the first step in a transformation to the way we assess our progress and support our people.
  • Rather than focusing only on GDP and export growth, our Budget is essentially intertwined with the wellbeing of the people of New Zealand.
  • A significant investment is our commitment to mental health, including mental health in the work environment.
  • We all need support through life, from our colleagues our families and our friends. We need to show our humanity in everything we do.
  • For our economy, for our workplaces and for society to be productive, it needs to be inclusive and supportive. We need to support each other.
  • Workplace wellbeing needs to be a focus of our work.
  • We are ensuring that workplace changes we make will help those most vulnerable first, and supporting mental health at work, and ensuring vulnerable workers have a voice in the workplace and are protected from exploitation is part of this.
  • Bullying happens in many ways, but some of the most extreme bullying happens when people are at their most vulnerable, such as people working away from home, when they don’t know their rights or have anyone to stick up for them.
  • We have a programme to reduce migrant worker exploitation – I will be consulting with the public on this in the coming months. I hope you are able to contribute to that too.
  • As you can imagine, it is important to ensure people have a way to be heard and to get help in these situations.

Culture change: the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015

  • The 2015 Health and Safety at Work Act was the result of a complete overhaul of how we manage our health and safety, and it gives prominence to the important role workers play in contributing to risk management at work.
  • The law explicitly requires businesses to maintain a work environment that manages risk to both physical and mental health.
  • Worker engagement, participation and representation is one its cornerstones. The more workers and their representatives are able to participate in decisions impacting on their health and safety, the better the outcomes.
  • The Government places huge importance of the partnership between workers (who know their jobs) and the businesses and organisations they work for.
  • It comes back to the emphasis the law places on workers to contributing to risk management at work.
  • We must have systems that genuinely allow workers to engage in health and safety decision making AND to participate in the decision-making process.
  • This requires a culture change for many businesses: it requires both leadership and support and buy in from colleagues and staff. Support will generally follow leadership.

Health and Safety at Work Strategy

  • The Health and Safety at Work Strategy launched late last year is pivotal as the way forward to do this.
  • It sets out the overall direction in improving the health and safety of workers over the next 10 years.
  • The reality is that we need the Strategy to make sure we continue to make progress to reduce levels of harm.
  • A strength of the Strategy is that it recognises the role of wider system partners: other government agencies, business and others.
  • Areas of need include improved capability, work-related health including mental health, improved data, small business support, leadership, and stronger engagement with Māori.
  • We also need to make sure the Strategy works for our diverse workforce (including Pasifika workers and migrant workers from diverse ethnic communities).
  • It represents our determination that everyone returns home to their friends and whanau in the same health as when they began their day at work.
  • The Strategy is a call-to–action.
  • This is because there are 50-60 deaths from work incidents each year and exposures to chronic health risks are estimated to account for 750 to 900 deaths a year.
  • The Strategy shows us what will make the biggest impact and the key areas that we must improve to bring these numbers down.
  • Its purpose is to ensure health and safety activity across the system aligns.
  • We will see greater impact and improvements if the efforts of individual businesses and organisations are aligned.
  • The Strategy puts workers at the heart of our health and safety system. It is not rocket science – it is about caring for workers and keeping everybody safe.  

Supporting health, mental health, safety and wellbeing

  • Better management of risks to mental health in the workplace and how work can support good mental health is a key priority for myself and the Government.
  • The Christchurch attacks in March have raised questions around how we as a nation confront racism and intolerance.
  • I am sure that is something you are all considering.
  • When we talk about risks to mental health and wellbeing, it is important we consider the role of inclusivity, tolerance and freedom from discrimination.
  • Work can positively and negatively impact a person’s mental health.
  • Mental health is an increasing area of focus here and overseas.
  • The culture of work determines whether these issues may arise.
  • Dealing with it requires coordination across government, business and people like you.
  • Increasing awareness and discussion of issues around risks to mental health and wellbeing – in particular, unreasonable behaviours such as violence, bullying or harassment – is actually a good thing.
  • It means we have surfaced the issues that need to be dealt with.

A better approach

  • WorkSafe is helping business create strong and safe working cultures.
  • It has also been working on strengthening worker engagement, participation and representation to help businesses create workplace cultures that support good health and safety.
  • We are now seeing industry representative organisations increasingly aware of how the working environment supports or harms worker health and wellbeing.
  • This is because the mind-set is changing and risks to mental health are increasingly being seen as part of every business’s health and safety management.
  • It’s at that system level where we will bring about the most effective change in terms of our goal to improve the health and wellbeing of our workers.
  • This is because health and safety provides a great platform not only because it is a message that resonates, but because the building blocks to achieve great health and safety outcomes are the same pillars to support strong, resilient and sustainable industries and communities.

Enjoy your conference, thank you.