Amanda Bailey might well be a very political young person (oh look, a woman with opinions!) But this is not a political issue.

Among the claim and counter claim, let’s not lose sight of the issue at the heart of #PonyGate: imbalance and abuse of power.

Look at the list of people now involved:

1. The Prime Minister, by definition the most powerful man in the country

2. A major national newspaper, its editor, and gossip/PR hack with legendary (if regrettable) powers of persuasion

3. The owners of a multi-million dollar group of businesses; (the employer)

and

4. A 26-year-old woman working as a waitperson in the above owners’ café.

It’s not hard to see how Amanda Bailey might have been at a disadvantage from the start. And before you start shouting at the screen, apart from the fact that we wouldn’t be talking about this if Amanda was a young man (there’s no evidence of the PM tugging on any man-buns) this is not necessarily a gender issue, either. It’s not okay for anyone to have to endure this kind of discomfort at work, on the bus, waiting in a supermarket line, anywhere.

This should particularly apply at work, I reckon. Rosie’s Café is a vibrant, popular spot. It’s often packed. If I were managing the café and in charge of a group of young people whose job it is to keep customers happy in word, deed, and attitude, I’d be keeping a very close eye on the interactions between customers and those staff to make sure everyone was safe and happy at all times. Would I have angrily fronted the PM when my worker complained to me as Amanda did? He’s the PM – would you?

As I’ve unfortunately learned in previous employment, even senior staffers at large, supposedly progressive companies with HR Departments can be surprised at how little support is available to them when they need it. Your options in these kinds of situations are to swallow hard and beat down your feelings, or fight. If you choose to fight, you tend to become known as “difficult to work with.” To say, as many have, that Amanda should have complained to the owners is a spurious argument. She did complain to her manager, who plainly also felt unable to challenge the PM as fully as he or she presumably would have with another customer (the power thing again.)

Any service person in hospitality might unfortunately conclude that her options were few.

Yet Amanda Bailey had the courage to speak out. It obviously took some time for her to gain that courage, and fair enough. I don’t care one jot where she took her story; the story is true, the PM has confirmed it’s true, and most of us agree the Prime Minister’s actions were well out of line.

Any feeling of relief Amanda might have had after writing her initial blog post would have been short-lived. Her bravery was almost immediately answered with a bewildering blindside that saw her plastered over the front page of the national newspaper. In the story, Amanda’s ultimate bosses sought to ensure that we all knew her intention “was never to reflect any ill will to the Hip Group” 

No condemnation from them of the PM’s behaviour; in fact their only mention of John Key was glowing: “..a regular at Rosies and well-loved by the staff.”

Well, not this staff member if anyone had cared to look closely enough. The impression we are left with is that once again, the victim is to blame here for making a fuss and embarrassing us all, but because they are nice employers (no argument there) they’ll have their photo taken with her and try to “put all this behind” them.

They then, after a bit of to and fro, agreed with the gossip hack that this could run as a big story in a national newspaper. It seems clear from all the carefully worded statements released to date that nobody made this clear to Amanda, who had been expecting a PR release confirming she still had her job. As a fellow Tweeter told me today:

“Following a very familiar arc, isn’t it? Vulnerable person is brave enough to tell her story, then pays and pays and pays and…”

Willie Jackson and Alison Mau - weekdays from 12pm on RadioLIVE

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