Harassment by Local Govt Heads: Create System That Will Not Overlook Employees’ Suffering

Incidents of sexual harassment and workplace bullying by local government leaders are occurring one after another. A system must be put in place to heed the complaints of employees who experience such acts and deal strictly with problematic behavior.

The mayors of Ikeda, Gifu Prefecture, and Togo, Aichi Prefecture, have resigned from their posts on the grounds that they repeatedly harassed many municipal employees.

The mayor of Ikeda had been touching female employees over a period of 20 years, and the mayor of Togo berated town staff with such statements as “Your brain is smaller than a pigeon’s.” Third-party committees in each town deemed their acts to be harassment.

In March, the mayor of Ginan, Gifu Prefecture, also resigned due to repeatedly committing sexual and workplace harassment. When there was something the Ginan mayor did not like, he would tell municipal employees that they would be disciplined or fired.

It is appalling that even now there are local government chiefs across the nation who repeatedly engage in such malicious statements and actions. The fact that all three towns did not have functioning anti-harassment systems and failed to prevent the spread of employees’ suffering over a long period of time is a serious matter.

The town office of Ikeda had an internal consultation office, but the employees who suffered harassment could not consult with it for fear of retaliatory job assignments by the mayor. The government of Togo had a code of harassment prevention, but it only covered ordinary employees, not the mayor.

When an employee in Ginan reported the harassment to the consultation office, the mayor tried to identify who had made the claim. Senior town officials and others therefore only advised municipal employees to take steps to protect themselves, such as “stay away from the mayor’s office.”

To eliminate harassment, it is essential to create an environment in which people feel comfortable confiding in others about their suffering, and to conduct fair investigations. Problematic behavior by local government heads is occurring in many places. Each local government should review its anti-harassment system.

Consultation offices should include external personnel, such as lawyers, so that employees do not have to fear the spread of rumors within the municipal office or disadvantageous job assignments. Some heads of local governments do not understand what constitutes sexual harassment and workplace bullying. Thorough harassment prevention training should also be provided.

In recent years, a conspicuous number of municipalities have created ordinances to prevent harassment. In response to a harassment issue involving its mayor, the city of Komae in Tokyo established an anti-harassment ordinance that covers the mayor and assembly members. The city aims to demonstrate its tough stance against harassment by establishing clear rules.

The Ikeda mayor apologized at a press conference announcing his resignation, saying, “I was like the man in ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes.’” Local government heads have a responsibility to serve their residents. A municipal office where employees cannot work with peace of mind cannot hope to provide quality services to residents.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 6, 2024)