Sexual Harassment, Still Going Strong!

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2022 Local Government Service Group Conference
16 February 2022

Conference is concerned about the extent of sexual harassment in workplaces and that there are no signs that it is decreasing. Far from it. There is evidence that the requirement to work from home during the pandemic led to online sexual harassment becoming more prevalent. Local government service group workplaces are no exception to this worrying trend.

Sexual harassment can have a devastating impact, often leading to ill-health and work-related stress, affecting both work performance and personal life. It can leave victims powerless, ashamed, hopeless and scared.

As UNISON set out in its submission to the Home Office on the government’s violence against women and girls’ strategy in February 2021, workplace culture that tolerates sexual harassment also allows violence to fester.

Figures from the TUC show that half of women have been sexually harassed at work, two thirds of LGBT+ people have experienced it and worryingly, 4 out of 5 people don’t feel able to report it to their employer.

Conference welcomes the announcement by the UK government in July 2021 that it will introduce a new duty on employers to protect all their staff from sexual harassment at work and protections for workers harassed by clients or customers as well as colleagues. However, the changes to the law are needed now. Conference recognises that UNISON will need to press the government to keep to these commitments and introduce a properly enforceable law so that all employers make prevention a priority and can be held to account if they do not act.

In the meantime, there is also a lot that local government employers and branches could do now to raise awareness about sexual harassment and to address it. The tone needs to be set from the top – leaders, elected or otherwise, are responsible for the culture of an organisation. UNISON’s National Women’s SOG has produced excellent materials to help raise awareness of sexual harassment and help victims have the confidence to seek help from their union. There is also guidance to negotiate policies with employers. These materials should be promoted and used more widely across the service group.

Ensuring that a good anti-sexual harassment policy is in place in all local government service group workplaces will help towards eradicating any sex discriminatory practices and could contribute to gender pay gap action plans. It will also help to protect our Black, LGBT+, disabled and younger members in local government workplaces as too often the sexual harassment can be linked with other forms of discrimination.

Conference calls on the Local Government Service Group Executive to:

1)Promote UNISON’s bargaining guidance on sexual harassment widely in the service group;

2)Encourage branches in the service group to use the guidance to negotiate, or review, sexual harassment policies with employers.