Review of bullying and harassment of fisheries observers and supervisors
Following reports of 2 serious incidents on vessels in 2019, we commissioned an independent review into bullying and harassment of observers and their shore-based supervisors. Find out about the review, its recommendations, and our actions.
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Fisheries New Zealand's observers make a valuable contribution to the sustainability of New Zealand's fisheries system. They collect valuable scientific information, including biological sampling, catch composition data, and protected species interactions.
This data collection ensures that fisheries management decisions are made with the best available information. Fisheries observers are not compliance officers however the information they collect may be used by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) for compliance investigations.
Fisheries observers work in complex, high-risk, and isolated working environments. They can be out at sea for weeks, and sometimes months at a time.
As such there are many health and safety risks that need to be managed.
Over the past 3 years (since 2018), MPI has placed significant emphasis on improving health and safety for our observers, including improved processes to minimise and manage the risks of bullying and harassment.
MPI has a zero-tolerance policy towards bullying and harassment, which we have communicated to the industry.
We have been working with the industry to drive best practice with respect to responding to incidents, and will continue doing so, from meeting with individual fishers through to companies and forums representing industry.
MPI has established a Speak Up programme to make sure people feel supported to raise any issues in ways they feel comfortable so that they can be appropriately addressed.
We are making a number of further improvements to our reporting and review process.
- enhancing observer training in de-escalation techniques
- training for supervisors to better support observers through difficult situations
- further promotion of existing policies and procedures so that everyone understands the support available to them
- extending peer support networks for observers
- regular and scheduled governance review of efficacy of changes to ensure continual improvement.
These efforts have been acknowledged at the 2021 New Zealand Workplace Health and Safety Awards.
Following reports of 2 serious incidents on vessels in 2019, we commissioned an independent review by barrister Rachael Schmidt-McCleave, into bullying and harassment of observers and their shore-based supervisors.
The purpose of this review was to gain a deeper understanding of bullying and harassment faced by our observer staff and use these insights to build on our existing work to keep observers safe.
The 2 incidents in 2019 involving fishery observers
To protect the privacy of the individuals involved we cannot detail the incidents but can summarise them.
It was alleged:
- that an observer was subject to sexual harassment while deployed on a fishing vessel
- that an observer was subject to a sexual assault while deployed on a fishing vessel.
In the second incident, the fishing company involved participated in the review and conducted its own investigation.
MPI has formally closed both incidents with the fishing companies involved and reinforced MPI's zero tolerance stance of bullying and harassment of any Fisheries New Zealand staff.
The review found that due to the unique and challenging nature of the roles, fisheries observers and their supervisors have been subject to bullying and harassment and at various levels of seriousness.
It commended MPI on its processes and policies to manage bullying and harassment, which has been the subject of significant focus over the past 2 years (since 2019).
The review made a number of recommendations to build on our health and safety work, and we have accepted them all in full or in part. Of the 19 recommendations, 17 were fully accepted and 2 were partially accepted.
Table: Summary of the review recommendations and our actions
|Recommendation||Status||Action as at 26 October 2021|
|Drive best practice for industry when responding to complaints of bullying.||Accept||
Develop an industry-wide template for responding to allegations of bullying and harassment. Work with the fisher safety forum to implement.
|Review and enhance observer training, especially in de-escalation.||Accept||
Review and enhance the observer training course to include specific training in observers’ induction course as to what to expect at sea, dealing with conflict, de-escalation, bullying, and sexual harassment (include the behaviour expected of observers on vessels).
|Periodic refresher training for observers, led by some one with expertise in the area.||Accept||
Annual refresher to include an externally moderated bullying and harassment component with an observer-led slot to enable sharing of experiences. Include a bullying and harassment component in refresher training led by someone with expertise in area, as well as observer-led to enable people to share experiences.
|Ensure fisheries observers know and understand existing reporting mechanisms for bullying and harassment.||Accept||
Add bullying and harassment reporting guidance to Fisheries Observer briefing material.
Instruct FOSs to raise awareness at pre-trip briefings on the need for observers to report bullying and harassment.
|Develop bullying and harassment awareness training for observers’ supervisors.||Accept||
Develop awareness training for Fisheries Observer Supervisors around unacceptable behaviours and how to resolve complaints of bullying and harassment.
|Confidential debrief of observer trip experiences||Accept||
Identify and appoint a person to privately speak to an observer (in-person or over the phone) on how they were treated aboard the vessel.
Develop a sensitive-issues process to report improper behaviour to vessel operators.
|Confidential reporting of bullying and harassment.||Accept||
Work with the Health Safety and Wellbeing team to create an anonymous reporting mechanism within Incident Risk Management System for disclosure of bullying and harassment.
|All observers have access to lockable cabins||Partial||
Because of the nature of inshore vessels, having lockable cabins in all vessels is not feasible.
Review and enhance the deep water and inshore observer standards for accommodation to provide for observers’ privacy and personal safety.
Develop guidance on how this needs to be checked and interpreted for pre-placement assessments and pre-departure checks.
|Carry out pre-deployment assessments to gauge risk||Accept||
Bullying and harassment policies are checked and confirmed as part of the pre-placement assessment that are conducted at least annually or more frequently for vessels rated higher risk.
|Establish a women’s network to provide a safe place for women observers to raise and discuss issues.||Accept||
Observers have already been linked to Fisheries New Zealand women’s network, Nga Wahine Toa.
We are now extending this across the wider Fisheries New Zealand branch. A workshop is planned to enable participation across the branch.
|Establish secure communications channel for observers to communicate issue which may arise while at sea.||Accept||
Secure communications channel is in place and monitored, allowing for communications between observers and the on-call Fisheries Observer supervisor at any time 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
In addition, we are exploring technical solutions which will allow observers to contact a wider range of Fisheries New Zealand staff while at sea for support.
|Regular and scheduled governance review of efficacy of changes, supported by staff surveys.||Partial||
While we will not conduct staff surveys, we will capture information on effectiveness of changes in observer trip debriefs.
We will discuss and monitor progress of the Bullying and Harassment Action Plan at scheduled management committee meetings.
|Exit interviews should be used to capture information for continuous improvement.||Accept||
Formalise exit interviews for staff leaving the observer programme are in place and anonymised information is analysed and used to drive continuous improvement.
|Drive consistency in how bullying and harassment incidents are captured.||Accept||
Ensure the health and safety register records incidents consistently, including incidents of bullying and harassment.
Provide guidance to users on how to report bullying and harassment incidents within the Incident Risk Management System.
Ensure previous interactions, recorded within the Incident Risk Management System are used to inform Preplacement Health and Safety Assessments.
|Align legal protections for Observers with those in place for Fishery Officers.||Partial||
We are investigating the possibility of a policy level legislative amendment to align observers’ protections with the legal protections of fisheries officers.
This action, which is being tested by MPI’s legal and policy teams, would mean an amendment of s229 of the Fisheries Act.
Currently it is only an offence to hinder an observer under s225, whereas it is an offence under s229 to obstruct a Fishery Officer.
|Promote existing policies and guidelines to prevent bullying and harassment.||Accept||
This work is underway and ongoing. It includes actions to make it easier to report issues.
|Communicate MPI’s zero tolerance of bullying and harassment to industry.||Accept||
We have communicated to industry our zero tolerance of bullying and harassment in a number of ways, including formal letters to industry leaders, directly to fishing vessel operators and through industry committees. We will continue to do so as the need arises.
Action complete and ongoing
|Reguar reviews of reported incidents.||Accept||
We will conduct regular and scheduled reviews at a senior level (with union input) of reported incidents of inappropriate behaviour or other complaints to provide assurance to observers and FOSs that these are appropriately handled and responded to. This should be undertaken at the Observer Health and Safety committee, where union representatives attend and elevated to the FNZ Management Committee if required.
|Increase the number of channels people can use to report||Accept||
We have reviewed the mechanisms for reporting bullying and harassment in policies and guidelines with a view to removing the need to inform one’s manager first.
Other channels available to Fishery Observers to report incidents include a phone service and a dedicated online channel.