UNISON today launched new bargaining guidance for fighting sexual harassment at work.
National women’s officer Josie Irwin told delegates at the union’s women’s conference: “Sexual harassment is against the law, but the law doesn’t stop it happening.
“Sexual harassment can take place at any level in any relationship, it can be third party; it can take place off premises and at events. It’s an employer’s responsibility to stop it from happening”.
TUC policy officer Sian Elliott was also present at the launch, and criticised the legal approach to sexual harassment: “Current legislation places the burden on the victim who has been harassed to prevent their own sexual harassment.
“If four in five women aren’t reporting, then employers have very little to do.”
Under current law there is no legal duty on employers to take proactive action to prevent harassment happening in their workplaces. Instead, the onus is on the victim to report it to their employer after it has happened.
UNISON is a part of the TUC’s This is Not Working alliance, comprised of over 20 unions and charities. The alliance calls for employers to be proactive in tackling sexual harassment, with trainings and policies that cut to the root of the problem: abuse of power in the workplace.
If there was a mandatory duty to take all reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment, it would transform cultures of abuse in workplaces.
Ms Elliott explained the role of union reps and activists: “For a woman, it can be incredibly daunting going down the formal route of a grievance or employment tribunal. It’s an incredibly traumatic, time consuming process.
“We need to find another way and we, as reps in our workplaces, can be looking at patterns in departments and where line managers need training. If a man is abusing his power with one person, it’s likely he’s doing the same with others in the same department.”
Ms Irwin said: “Getting a policy in place is just the first step. We can’t let employers off the hook because they’ve ticked a policy box. We need to make sure they’re walking the walk. Employers need to make sure they’re educated.”