Sexual harassment – more work to do

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2022 Virtual National Women's Conference
13 October 2021
Carried as Amended

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. This announcement came as part of the government’s published response to the 2019 consultation on sexual harassment in the workplace, and commits the government to: –

• Introducing a mandatory duty on employers to protect their staff from sexual harassment at work.

• Introducing explicit protections for employees from harassment by third parties, for example customers or clients.

• Considering extending employment tribunal time limits from three to six months.

• Tasking the Equality and Human Rights Commission with developing a statutory code of practice on sexual harassment and harassment at work, setting out the steps that employers should take to prevent and respond to sexual harassment, and what can be considered in evidence when determining whether the duty has been breached.

This is a victory for UNISON and the #ThisIsNotWorking alliance, the TUC-led coalition of unions, women’s rights bodies and business organisations that campaigns for employers to be proactive in tackling sexual harassment, with training and policies that cut to the root of the problem: abuse of power in the workplace.

However, conference recognises that UNISON must continue 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.

Conference is concerned that sexual harassment is pervasive in workplaces and that there is evidence that the requirement to work from home during the pandemic has led to online sexual harassment becoming more prevalent.

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. UNISON’s recent joint survey with the Nursing Times revealed worryingly that 73% of respondents had not reported incidents, many because they felt nothing would be done. The survey also highlighted that in many workplaces sexual harassment is not treated seriously and has become ‘normalised’.

Achieving the changes to the law is urgent. 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.

Conference notes the need to refresh and update UNISON’s own guidance on sexual harassment to take account of new ways of working due to the pandemic, particularly video-conferencing.

In addition, conference notes that in June 2019 the International Labour Organisation adopted Convention 190 on the elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work, the first international treaty to recognize the right of everyone to a world of work free from violence and harassment, and that the convention came into force on 25 June 2021. Governments that ratify Convention 190 will be required to put in place the necessary laws and policy measures to prevent and address violence and harassment in the world of work. It is concerning that the UK has not yet ratified it.

Conference therefore calls on the National Women’s Committee to work with the National Executive Council and other parts of the union as appropriate to:

a)Continue to press for the government to introduce the changes to the law, outlined above, that it has committed to

b) Continue to build the campaign for zero tolerance of sexual harassment in workplaces, including on-line abuse

c) Refresh and update the UNISON guidance on sexual harassment, and promote it widely in the union

d) Campaign for the UK to ratify ILO Convention 190

e) Work with Labour Link to raise the campaigns in points a) and d) with the Labour party