Survey uncovers harassment in public service

A survey has revealed that harassment in Samoa’s public service is a major problem with a large number of respondents calling for it to be addressed.

The survey was done in 2015 by the Public Service Commission as part of its activities under the Code of Conduct provisions of the Public Service Act 2004, to ensure that the workplace culture in the bureaucracy is respectful and ethical. 

Details of the survey were published in a recent Public Service Commission report titled “End of Term and Post Implementation Report - Public Administration Sector Plan 2013/14-2017/18”.

The survey data revealed the existence of sexual harassment, bullying, age discrimination, and physical harassment within the Government Ministries.

“The survey was to determine whether harassment existed, its magnitude, and whether people felt that an overarching harassment policy should be developed. The survey also was based on a directive made by the commission at the time. 

“Based on the survey results, harassment was identified as an issue in the workplace, and employees felt that it needed to be addressed as soon as practical. Employees stated that the most common forms included bullying, age discrimination, physical and sexual harassment. 

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“While more than half of respondents chose not to specify whether they had been personally harassed at work, a considerable number noted they had experienced it or witnessed a co-worker being harassed. 

“In terms of prevalence, respondents noted that it happened on a daily, weekly or ad hoc basis. When asked whether they were aware of the process in the event they are/were harassed, the majority of respondents noted yes.

“With regards to additional ways the Government could help to address harassment, the majority remained neutral, while others suggested awareness workshops. Only a few respondents suggested the development of a harassment policy,” stated the Public Service Commission report. 

According to the report, the Public Service Employee Satisfaction Survey 2014 — which received more than 1000 responses — supported the notion that harassment did exist in the workplace. 

“Of the 1128 respondents, 135 reported that they had experienced harassment once or twice at their workplaces. While the numbers were small compared to the total, the issue was that harassment existed, and some public servants were being victimised on a daily basis. 

“One key finding worth highlighting was that harassment was seen as a norm in workplaces because of our culture. Circumstances have led employees to believe that unwelcomed remarks or comments — made in a humorous way — was acceptable and was a normal part of their workplace or organisational culture. 

The institutionalisation of inappropriate behavior or harassment in the workplace needed to be corrected,” stated the report.

In response to the findings of the survey, the Public Service Commission approved an amendment to the Public Service Act 2004 and Public Service Regulations 2008, to include a definition of what harassment is, provide legal certainty as to what constitutes harassment, and address the difficulties faced by the victims by providing proof. 

“The amendment has since been made as part of the Public Service Act Review highlighted under the achievements of Goal 1 of this Report.” 

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