Summing up my 20 odd years of staff union experience in CUHK, I've regretably come to the conclusion that the main obstacle confronting CUSA in protecting the rights of our junior staff is the impotence of the upper management.
In dealing with grievance cases it's a certainty that very quickly we hit the proverbial glass ceiling. The problem appears to be because many ( not all ) Heads of Department reliquish all their power to the middle management, they've not a clue what's really going on in their departments, some might possibly would rather not know and care even less, so long as the department's in apparent smooth running.
It's then down to pure luck how the junior staff would fare.
If the supervisor happens to be good and fair-minded, then the working environment is good , and thank God that's the majority of cases; but if the supervisor's mean and twisted, the subordinate can very quickly become a victim of horrendous abuse of power. Typical of all bullies, these middle managers inflict injuries by using threatening, offensive, humiliating and degrading language to intimidate, or set the staff up to fail by withholding necessary information or overloading him/her with unreasonable duties or workload, or setting impossible deadlines . In all these the contract staff is particularly vulnerable.
How has CUHK Management reacted to all these ? To its credit, a Grievance Procedures have been brought in and a brand new staff has been hired recently supposedly to facilitate resolving the grievances. Unfortunately so far CUSA has not heard one good word about the set-up. To be fair, one can argue this is so because only the failed cases would land on the CUSA lap, all the same it might be educational for us all to look into what has gone wrong with these cases.
Under the Principles of the Grievance Procedures the aggrieved staff is encouraged to resolve the matter informally by going to the even more senior person in charge. Our experience has been that when the junior staff take their problems to the Head, they're either reprimated or sent off with empty rectoric, more often than not they're worse off than if they didn't broach their complaint, as the complainees, emboldened that their bad behaviour's glossed over, proceed to making the complainants' life even more miserable. This is in direct conflict with the promise stated in the Grievance Procedures, Principle 2.5 : "A complainant shall not be victimized in his/her employment for lodging a grievance which is justified and in good faith " Please permit my stupid question, what specifically would CUHK do to protect the complainant ? And the stapulation that the Grievance Statement is to be filed within 90 days of the alleged cause of grievance is a joke, as all bullying cases, just like battered spouse syndrome, usually take years before they come to light.
One might ask, why does the Head generally side with the middle manager even in the face of overwhelming evidence of misconduct ? Could it possibly be to do otherwise is tentamount to admission to his/her wrongful judgement and misplaced trust? Is favoritism a factor ? Or is it simply because the Head's time's too precious to waste on the woes of a lowly staff ? Conceivably it's always easier to sacrifice the small potato. This and the fact that many witnesses to the bullying would understandably choose to remain silent, plus the traditional "black-box" operative style of CUHK that has led to deep distrust of the management , are some of the reasons the aggrieved staff stay away from the Grievance Procedures . Interestingly for those brave souls that actually lodged a formal Grievance Procedures, the most common complaint they bring to CUSA is that they then found themselves subjected to "strong persuasion" from the Grievance Procedures mediator to suck it up and move on, for their own good !
CUSA is proud to reiterate our neutrality in all staff grievances and conflicts. We refrain from influencing, either by encouragement or discouragement, in whatever way the complainant might wish to pursue what they perceive as just treatment . We're only the bridge that brings forth their distress to the appropriate people.
I'm constantly amazed how senior management, or even measly mid-level managers , could so easily and utterly destroy a person both memtally and emotionally, but I under estimate the malicious claws of wanton power. Too often we read in the newspapers people committing suicide because of inter-personal problems at work. Corrupted power happens when there's no supervision and no check and balance. CUSA has repeatedly advocated reverse appraisal, but so far our request has fallen on deaf ears. While a subordinate can be the bully to his/her supervisor , the disparity in power and the present appraisal system hold the check.
CUHK needs to show it's committed to effective policing of all departments within the university through full accountability from all the tiers of management ; it has to win the trust of all staff by proving bad behaviours are not rewarded or covered up for the sake of appearances; or that the Grievance Procedures is nothing more than a venue for complainants to ventilate. There's no other way " fairness, justice and harmony in the workplace " as envisioned in the Grievance Procedures Principles 2.1 can materialise .
Maybe then we can escape the apathy that pervades the university, just inches away from establishing itself as the lethal entrenched culture.
( This article was published in the CUSA Newsletter issue 24, July 2013 )