Union is key in fighting sexual harassment

Debates suggest a range of approaches to tackling the problem, including education for employers and promoting a scheme to help women if they’re feeling unsafe

Sarah Walsh from the young members’ forum applauded the #MeToo movement, when she spoke to fellow delegates at UNISON’s national women’s conference, but pointed out that working-class women don’t have red carpet and the paparazzi to help them make their voices heard.

What they do have, though, is their union.

Conference called on the national women’s committee to carry out research across the union on harassment in the workplace, and produce toolkit to tackle it, linked to a campaign to Call It Out!

South East regional delegate Mary Moore pointed out that, while “anybody can find themselves the victim of sexual harassment, it’s statistically more likely to be a woman and even more so if you’re a young woman.’

She stressed the need to help educate employers in how to deal with the problem and particularly to create clear pathways that make it easier and clearer for women to know how to make complaints formally where necessary.

Sharon told delegates that “the union really must be at the forefront of fighting harassment”, noting too that casual and precarious employment makes it harder for people to come forward and report problems, “because they’re afraid of losing their hours.”

Alice Gregory Morris from the South East region commented that the government had removed a part of the Equalities Act that gave protection to someone being harassed in the workplace by a third party, such as a client.

“This affects every woman in a job”, she said.

Continuing the conference theme of safety, delegates also heard from Yorkshire and Humberside about a scheme called Ask for Angela, which gives women who might feel unsafe or threatened on a night out or a date a code phrase – “Is Angela in?” – that can alert staff in a situation where she is, to help her get safe exit from the premises or even a taxi home.

It depends on staff in premises being aware of the scheme and conference voted to instruct the national women’s committee help raise awareness of Ask for Angela.