KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Jackie Barkhouse, a former Halifax councillor, says that during her term she frequently raised concerns around a toxic workplace for City Hall employees. But her complaints would be shrugged off by then Mayor Peter Kelly, Human Resources officials and senior management.
Barkhouse served as Councillor for District 8 (at that time, Woodside-Eastern Passage) from 2007 to 2012.
“I certainly became aware of instances of bullying at City Hall, and I took these concerns forward. I actually became isolated because of my involvement in these cases,” Barkhouse tells the Nova Scotia Advocate.
Most of the time she would ensure that a third person would be present to witness the conversations with management, and at times that witness was a fellow Councillor, she adds.
Barkhouse, out of respect for people’s privacy, does not want to get into the details of these experiences. It’s up to these people to bring their own story forward, she says, adding that in several cases that’s exactly what happened.
In the last few months African Nova Scotian employees of the Municipal Operations Program rallied at City Hall because racism continues to be a problem at their workplace despite a two-year old promise of action, and a Human Rights enquiry found the City negligent in addressing horrendous racist bullying at Halifax Transit.
In both cases Mayor Savage and CAO Jacques Dubé apologized and spoke of the need to do better. But that’s not good enough, says Barkhouse.
“Systemic workplace abuse requires a systemic approach to deal with it,” she says. “At HRM the abuse is built into its culture, and it has been like that for decades. This happens over time in many major workplaces. At some point you have to stop apologizing and do some serious work.”
Barkhouse was one of the founders of Equity Watch, an organization that calls out public and private employers who refuse to deal with bullying, misogyny and systemic discrimination in their workplaces. As well, Equity Watch members support one another emotionally and through their various areas of expertise.
Most of the Equity Watch members at this time are current or former employees of HRM, and that’s no coincidence, Barkhouse suggests.
In the aftermath of the recent reports around racism and harassment at HRM, Equity Watch called for a public inquiry to get to the root of the problem. Barkhouse endorses that demand.
“We need to know. It is imperative to rebuild trust with the public and the employees. We need to make this as transparent as possible and I believe that can be done in a way that respects people’s privacy,” she says.
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