Education Min. admits going too far after officials accuse him of bullying, harassment

Minister Dennis Wiersma for Primary and Secondary Education often raged against civil servants in his first year in office, slamming doors, shouting, and putting employees under extreme pressure, officials told De Telegraaf. Through his spokesperson, Wiersma acknowledged that he was “too demanding, too sharp, and sometimes too fierce” and said he is working on it.

According to officials, Wiersma did not live up to his role model position for the over 200,000 primary and secondary education teachers in his first year as Minister. He shouted, slammed doors, and left people in tears, often raging against young, new officials, in particular, the civil servants told the newspaper. They asked to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions for their career. Some quit.

The number of reports of transgressive behavior at the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science also increased significantly last year. In 2022, there were 112 reports of discrimination, bullying, sexual harassment, and other inappropriate behavior. During the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, when work-from-home was the norm, there were logically fewer reports. But last year’s number is also significantly higher than pre-pandemic 2017, 2018, and 2019.

The Minister’s hot-tempered leadership ended last fall after the news broke about Matthijs van Nieuwkerk creating a culture of fear on De Wereld Draait Door. “When the news about Van Nieuwkerk came out, our Ministry also had to respond,” a civil servant told the Telegraaf. State Secretary Gunay Uslu is responsible for media at the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science. “Then it was weird to condemn that behavior while it also happened with us.”

No formal complaints were filed against Wiersma, but there were many “signals” that officials weren’t happy. “The Minister was aware of the signals that pressure was experienced within the organization,” Wiersma’s spokesperson said. “In the first period of his Ministry, he was sharp and sometimes fierce against civil servants, based on ambition and passion. He recognized at the time that this was not good.”

According to the spokesperson, Wiersma realized “that he asks a lot of the people around him and that his words as a Minister hit employees harder than those of anyone else.” He took action on his own initiative, the spokesperson said. There were discussions between the Minister, managers, and employees. “We continue to have these conversations. We are now better attuned to each other.”

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