Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

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2019 National Delegate Conference
1 January 2019

Conference notes that #MeToo has transformed the debate around sexual harassment and has enabled women and men to come forward. with cases being reported in the media more than ever before.

Conference acknowledges that anyone at any time can experience sexual harassment, but the statistics demonstrate that the overwhelming majority of victims are women.

Conference believes UNISON needs to ensure that the voices of working women are highlighted in the #MeToo debate, and that young women know UNISON can support them in cases of sexual harassment.

Conference acknowledges that sexual harassment in the workplace is not new. It can affect anyone. Generally perpetrators are those who are in a position of power or perceive they are.

Victims can feel powerless, ashamed, hopeless and scared. They often develop very low self esteem and this often leads them to avoiding the harasser, denying or downplaying the gravity of the situation, attempting to ignore, forget, or simply endure the behaviour.

Sexual harassment and attacks against women are not limited to the directors couch or behind film cameras. It takes place in ordinary work places. For too long women have felt disempowered by powerful male decision makers, men who literally hold your job in their hands. The very real fear of being scape-goated, ostracised or sacked means that women simply suffer in silence; they feel they have no other choice.

Conference is concerned to note that the Young Women’s Trust found in 2018 that 24% of young women would be reluctant to report sexual harassment at work for fear of losing their jobs. A further 15% of young women had been sexually harassed at work and not reported it. Only 8% of women who experienced sexual harassment said they had reported the incident. 17% are worried they would be offered fewer hours if they reported sexual harassment.

Reporting levels of sexual harassment are believed to be shockingly low, yet it is a fact that a disproportionate number of victims are women and the majority of perpetrators are men.

Worryingly, 32% of young women said they did not know how to report sexual harassment in their organisation.

A study by the TUC in 2016 found that 52% of women had experienced unwanted behaviour at work including groping, sexual advances and inappropriate jokes. Among women and girls aged 16-24, the proportion reporting sexual harassment rose to 63%.

Around one in eight women reported unwanted sexual touching or attempts to kiss them at work, which the report’s authors point out would be considered sexual assault under the law.

Almost a fifth said they had been harassed by their boss or someone else with authority over them.

But four in five women said they did not report the incidents to their employers, with many fearing that it would harm their relationships at work or that they would not be taken seriously.

Also, of those who had reported harassment to their employer, very few saw a positive outcome with nearly three quarters reporting that there was no change, and sixteen percent reporting that they were treated worse as a result.

A more recent survey by the TUC in December 2018 (Not Part of the Job) stated that there is evidence that suggests that harassment from third-parties is getting worse. All reports found that, in cases where the perpetrator of harassment or discrimination is not an employee, victims may be more reluctant to report the incident because there is a perception that it will not be dealt with in the same way as it would be if the perpetrator were another employee.

Prior to repeal in 2013, Section 40 of the Equality Act 2010 made provision for employers to be held liable in cases where the employer was aware of three incidences of harassment and had failed to take action to prevent reoccurrence. The coalition government removed this important protection as part of its ‘red tape challenge’, arguing that the protection existed elsewhere within the Act. In a twist predictable to many, the Court of Appeal in 2018 ruled that third-party harassment was not covered by alternative sections of the Equality Act 2010 (Unite the Union vs Nailard) and so it is essential that UNISON campaigns for Section 40 to now be reinstated.

Conference believes UNISON, as the union with over 1 million women, needs to lead the way with challenging sexual harassment, and empowering branches and young women members to do so. By developing innovative work in this area, UNISON can pioneer and champion unions as a place for support when sexual harassment occurs.

We must ensure that all activists and branch officers are equipped to support women who wish to report sexual harassment at work. This includes ensuring public sector employers have a public zero tolerance on sexual harassment and adequate policies in place developed to protect those who make claims.

Conference calls on the National Executive Committee to work with the appropriate UNISON committees, including Labour Link, to:

1) Publicly endorse and promote the #metoo and #timesup campaigns;

2) Make addressing sexual harassment a strategic priority with respect to the recruitment and organising of young women;

3) Work with the National Women’s Committee and the National Young Member’s Forum to develop a ‘Call It Out!’ campaign, aimed at young women in UNISON; liaising with appropriate external organisations such as NUS;

4) Work with appropriate bodies within UNISON to conduct research about women in UNISON and the sexual harassment they experience, in order to develop toolkits for branches that are reflective of the different sectors we represent;

5) Develop a toolkit for activists and branch officers that includes guidance on:

a) Negotiating a zero tolerance sexual harassment policy, with appropriate protections and safe reporting routes for victims with our public sector employers;

b) How branches should support members who report sexual harassment in the workplace;

c) Appropriate external bodies, that branches can signpost victims to, for expert support and counselling outside of the workplace;

6) Work with Learning and Organising Services to provide specific training for activists on sexual harassment in the workplace and how to develop workplace policies;

7) Work with Labour Link to raise with MPs the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace;

8) Campaign for the reintroduction of Section 40 of the Equality Act 2010 on ‘third party protection’;

9) Work with the London, East and South East TUC (LESE) and other public sector trade unions to develop a trade union campaign against sexual harassment in the workplace;

10) Work with the TUC and other public sector trade unions both in the UK and abroad to develop a global trade union campaign against sexual harassment in the workplace.