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Not worth complaining about Senedd bullying - aide

A former Senedd staff member who claimed to have been bullied by a politician has said they did not make a formal complaint because "it's not worth it".

Speaking to BBC Wales, the staff member said they felt they would be "seen as the problem" if they complained to the Senedd's behaviour watchdog, the standards commissioner.

Their comments come following significant concerns from parties and unions about the complaints system for harassment and bullying in the Welsh Parliament.

A Senedd committee has launched an inquiry amid calls for a more independent process, such as what exists in Westminster.

The former staff member said the MS who employed them "spoke to staff as if they were dog muck" and treated them as if they were their "dogsbody".

But they said they chose not to make a formal complaint to the standards commissioner Douglas Bain because there was no guarantee of anonymity.

An informal complaint was made to the party but "they weren't interested".

The staff member left their job, believing they had to either simply accept the behaviour, or move on.

Explaining why they decided not to make a formal complaint, they said: "I was concerned about my future.

"Would this experience hold me back because I complained about an MS?"

An internal Senedd survey found only 61.7% of members' support staff would feel comfortable raising concerns using the existing process.

This is "indicative of a significant problem", according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Unite, a union representing Senedd staff, said the current process was "not fit for purpose".

In response to the consultation on the Senedd's dignity and respect policy, the union said there was an "overwhelming feeling" among members that they would not be comfortable or confident complaining about MSs or anyone who works in the Senedd estate.

Currently, any complaint against an MS can be made to the standards commissioner, who then decides whether to investigate.

The commissioner is an independent person appointed by the Senedd to safeguard standards, uphold reputations and address the public's concerns.

Plaid Cymru questioned whether it was "appropriate for one individual to ultimately be solely responsible as commissioner, especially considering the limitations of one individual’s skills, expertise, and experiences".

Like other respondents, the party has called for a distinct complaints process for sexual harassment, "with independent experts investigating allegations and specialist support for complainants".

Labour said the current situation, where some complaints can take a year or more, was "not fair" and could lead to "significant distress".

In 2022, the Standards of Conduct Committee reduced the time limit to submit a complaint about the behaviour of a Senedd member from 12 months to six.

Most respondents said this decision should also be reversed.

The committee's chairwoman, Vikki Howells, said it had agreed to launch a "comprehensive inquiry to ensure the Senedd is an inclusive workplace, free from harassment and intimidation".

"We will continue to listen to people’s views as we work on getting our systems right for the future,” she added.

A Senedd Commission spokesperson said: “We would always encourage anyone who feels they are experiencing bullying behaviour to come forward and want to create an environment where everyone feels safe to do so.

“We continue to improve efforts to raise staff awareness of the current dignity and respect processes – including completing training for all members and rolling out training for their staff - and have appointed nine additional dignity and respect contact officers, which staff can seek advice and support from in confidence.”