Has it dawned on you that - Over 5000 people being bullied in Gibraltar

by PANORAMA reporter
Just how serious an issue is bullying in Gibraltar, how many are aware what acts constitute a bullying situation that can make someone’s life a living hell.

The number of people suffering or having to put up with difficult colleagues and workplace bullying is growing at an alarming rate in Gibraltar; this according to Francis Buttigieg, Chairman of the local branch of Dignity At Work Now also known as DAWN.

For the past 5 years since Dawn was established in Gibraltar members of the group have attempted to bring awareness and education regarding this worrying and growing problem that appears to be on the increase in local workplaces.

Dignity at Work was originally established in the UK with funding jointly from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and Unite the Union to tackle the problem of bullying and harassment in the workplace. The aim of the project is for employers and employee representatives to work together to find ways of addressing the issues around bullying.

DAWN recently held its official flag and awareness day at the Piazza. One thing that caught the eye was a large banner which stretched along the front of the main tables and which read ‘Over 5000 people being bullied in Gibraltar today’.

It seems quite unbelievable to think that from an official local workforce that cannot be more than 17000 or 18000 that over 5000 of these people are experiencing some kind of bullying at their place of work; this is a pretty disturbing and a worrying situation for a place the size of Gibraltar!

One of the main issues that DAWN has highlighted is the lack of awareness, education and of any substantive legislation. In fact as we were told “much of the behaviour that many people experience at work clearly falls within the definition of workplace bullying.” The actual problem lies that most people in a work place environment don’t equate their experience with being bullied as the term itself carries emotional baggage, plus as adult’s people believe they have more control over their lives than they had as teenagers.

Figures by DAWN appear to substantiate this difficult behaviour pattern at work, leading to bullying incidents. In fact these are occurrences that also and quite often take place within our homes, clubs, social networks, extended families and certainly in schools. This type of behaviour that falls within the bullying work place definition can make victims feel helpless; it can also be demoralising, humiliating and a source of daily misery.

In the worst cases, it can even lead to depression and other stress-related illnesses, this leads to victims being sick off work, and some cases afraid to go back to work!

Certainly Francis Buttigieg and his members at DAWN are concerned enough to have continued their efforts non stop for the last 5 years in an attempt to bring this matter into the open. This is a serious issue which DAWN have very good evidence to prove is now affecting a good number of the working population.

It can be revealed that Bullying locally is not limited to a particular area of employment or profession. We are informed that victims and people contacting DAWN with bullying issues are from a diverse section of the local labour market, which also includes working professionals. Importantly it was also highlighted that these high incidences of complaints point a finger at middle managers as the bullying defendant.

Such is the scale of bullying in the workplace, that DAWN receives at least 2 calls a week on average, this is via their hotline phone which is monitored by members.


However at official or Government level bullying as such, does not appear to have been taken as seriously as it should, and certainly not nearly as much as the dignity people would have liked!

The introduction of legislation and the setting up of workplace bullying policies would go a long way in bringing this matter out into the open; it would importantly also send the right messages to employers and bullies themselves, but also serve as a reassuring comfort to victims.

The Citizens Advice Bureau together with the Gibraltar Government organised an Equal Opportunities Training Course that was opened by the Minister for Family, Youth and Community Affairs. The Minister said in his speech “that a step towards empowering people from diverse backgrounds is making sure that their lives are “free from fear of discrimination, bullying and harassment and ensure everyone is treated with dignity and respect”. Our aim the Minister also said – “should be to propel equality from the margins to the mainstream. Every individual is entitled to respect and fair treatment from others.”

Many people will agree with those thoughts from the Minister, but words must be accompanied by ‘tangible action and accompanying deeds’ like officially establishing just how bad this problem is. Considering that Government is one of the biggest employers on the Rock it should lead by example and demonstrate the way to others.

There is similar legislation in place that deals with problems relating to Equal Opportunities, this is covered by the 2006 Equal Opportunities Act. but according to DAWN this Act wholly concentrates on areas of Discrimination and Harassment issues, and leaves out of the legal framework all the many bullying complaints, like insults, spreading malicious rumours, ridiculing or demeaning someone, exclusion or victimisation, overbearing supervision, misuse of power and even blocking promotion, but there are many more examples!


DAWN carried out two studies of their own; one conducted at the Port Department and another involving a group of professional workers. The objective of these studies was to assess workplace bullying, subjective wellbeing and mental health on a sample of workers.

The first study involved workers in the areas of health, education and public administration which represents 1.08% of the working population. The instrument used was a Socio-demographic Questionnaire. The results showed a high incidence (31.1%) of bullied workers and others witnessing bullying (39.3%), predominantly managers were the bullies, and males were those being bullied.

The second study at the Port Department by DAWN was an epidemiological study as part of its Anti-Bullying Awareness Campaign.

The sample involved 21 male port workers 28.6% port officer, 28.6% Seaman, 14.3% Coxswain, 9.5% Port Operation Operative. The result showed a high incidence of 66.7% bullied workers and witnessing bullying 76.2%. A significant majority of workers 71.4% referred that they had been targets of negative behaviour related to bullying during the last six months when this survey was conducted.

It’s a serious situation when you read such figures, which in many respects brings this issue right into the open and clearly into focus. Bullying is not the kind of social issue that can be swept under the carpet and forget it is not there. Bullying as already mentioned brings with it a range of problems – from physical intimidation, to inappropriate criticism to many other intimidating behaviour.

Workplace bullying is becoming such an acute problem that the UK government has sponsored a major investigation into the issue, while almost 90 per cent of UK companies now have a bullying policy in place. A host of research projects have identified bullying as a growing problem in the United Kingdom that has the potential to ruin workers’ careers, lives and wellbeing, Gibraltar it seems is no different!


Although DAWN in Gibraltar have mostly concentrated their efforts on workplace bullying, importantly however it is also known there is also a high incidence of bullying in local schools, where we are informed that for some reason or other these incidents and the manner they are dealt with appear to be a closely guided secret.

Nowadays however if you talk about bullying you unquestionably have to mention the digital world, where cyber bullying is very much an important issue, particularly with the amount of young internet users growing by the day; it is all becoming a concern, particularly in protecting the younger generation.

The issue regarding bullying must be brought into the open! It is obvious from statistics available that this is now a serious problem in Gibraltar. Bullying may be happening in your workplace, but you may not know it. Many people feel humiliated about reporting it or don't know who to report it to, or don't think anything will be done.

Things are sometimes made more complex, because bullying often occurs in tandem with its cousins, harassment and violence. Harassment can be a single instance of offensive or humiliating behaviour, relevant to some characteristic of the individual. Bullying, by contrast, is the repeated use of unreasonable behaviour, including things such as spreading malicious gossip, physical and social isolation of the victim, undermining them, making undue public criticism and claiming others' work as one's own – as mentioned there are many examples. Bullying is really committed over time and frequently in subtle ways. Often, there is no proof and there are no witnesses, but yet people continue to suffer.

Gibraltar should not drag its feet on yet another social issue of concern which is fast affecting a lot of people! Collectively, we all have a responsibility to raise awareness of this matter and make sure it is not ignored.

*If you have a bullying issue at work you can contact the DAWN Helpline on 57799000 or digital mail at dignityatwork@gibtecom.net and their website is on: