Suicides soar as 1.5 million workers a day fall victim to bully bosses

AN EPIDEMIC of workplace bullying is sweeping through Germany, with as many as 1.5 million people a day affected and the economy haemorrhaging money.

Known in German as "mobbing", the harassment in offices, call centres, factories, warehouses, police stations, doctors' surgeries and hospitals has reached such a level that workplace bullying has been linked to numerous suicides.

The employment ministry says the problem is more acute than in other countries.

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Several years ago, a specialist clinic opened to treat the victims of bullying, but to date it has had little impact.

The issue has resurfaced as a result of the case of Sedika Weingrtner, 45, who is suing her former employer, industry giant Siemens, for nearly 2 million.

Ms Weingrtner claims she was bullied for years by her bosses and discriminated against for being a woman and an Arab.

"I was put under massive pressure and was subject to subtle forms of abuse," she said as her case began in a Nuremberg courtroom this week.

"I became so ill that I collapsed in the workplace and had to go to the hospital. I almost died."

Ms Weingrtner came to Germany in 1991 as a single mother with three children after fleeing from Afghanistan, where she had worked in Kabul as a television journalist. She married a German, and in 2001 became a purchasing manager for Siemens, overseeing international projects in China, India and the United States.

Ms Weingrtner claims she was abused by her bosses, who called her names such as "dirt", "sloppy" and "Arab".

In 2004, Siemens asked her to sign an agreement to terminate her contract, but Ms Weingrtner refused.

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"Harassment and discrimination cases are piling up, and people don't know how they can defend themselves," said her lawyer, Frank Jansen.

Trade unions and anti-mobbing groups say a fifth of all suicides in Germany – about 2,000 each year – are related to bullying at work.

Billions of pounds are spent in the world's third-largest economy treating victims in hospitals and clinics.

The personnel consulting firm Hill International in Austria, where bullying is also a problem, said: "Mobbing leads to huge economic damage, due to the across-the-board costs it creates with hospital visits, therapies, unemployment assistance and early retirement.

"Above all, every case of mobbing means financial losses on a major scale for each individual firm."

Bullying victims in Germany who have taken their own lives include a policewoman in Munich, a lawyer in Berlin and a hospital worker in Dortmund.

The typical workplace "mobber" is male, a supervisor and aged between 35 and 54.

Almost 44 per cent of victims fall ill because of mobbing, and half of them remain sick for more than six weeks.

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Germany's health system has warned that it will need billions more in funding in the near future if it is to treat successfully all the victims of abuse in the workplace.