Chaired by UNISON vice-president Amerit Rait, the second day of the union’s national delegate conference passed a motion on tackling harassment at work.
Introducing the motion, the chair of the Welsh regional young members forum Ryan Hopkins said that harassment is one of the key issues raised by young members in the union.
Mr Hopkins drew the links between government cuts to services and increased harassment that workers face from members of the public: “Being justifiably stressed by a lack of services does not justify harassment, and it makes it more difficult for workers to put all of themselves into their job.”
The motion was amended to include a clause specifically on disabled workers. A TUC report found that 68% of disabled women workers had been sexually harassed at work.
Urging the union to pass the motion, Rosie MacGregor from the national retired members committee described the fear of harassment “as equal to the fear of reporting it.”
Another young member who works as a healthcare assistant described how, when she was harassed by a patient, she was told to ‘just get on with it’.
She said: “I was made to feel uncomfortable all day. That is the case for every female healthcare assistant who has to work with male patients in hospitals. The NHS, like most employers, love to put up posters to say they won’t tolerate abuse or harassment of staff. I wish they would follow those posters.”
Supporting the motion, Alison Lewis from Nottingham County branch shared her experience: “As a social work team manager, there are some people who think it’s part of our role to accept verbal or physical abuse.”
She also highlighted the increased rate of harassment for Black workers: “41% of Black workers are still experiencing racism at work. I’ve experienced racism at work, by a manager, and by a peer, and without the people in this union, I would not be standing here today.”
One union member, who worked in further education, described how she had 72 safeguarding referrals within six months.
The motion calls on the union to:
- promote existing model policies and other relevant materials around harassment, abuse, violence and safeguarding at work across the service group;
- work with relevant sections of the union to develop model policies where relevant ones do not currently exist;
- provide information to UNISON branches on negotiating adequate safety measures for lone workers, commuters and those working unsociable hours; and
- promote awareness and understanding across UNISON of issues around harassment, abuse and violence, with a particular focus on combatting sexual harassment, racism and workplace disability discrimination.
The conference session also passed a motion to make 2024 the year of LGBT+ worker, with special mention of the importance of standing up for trans people, particularly young trans people.