Beyond #MeToo

Heart Unions Week : Unite calls for legislation to prevent sexual harassment at work

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A strong majority of people believe the #MeToo movement has allowed them to be more open about sexual harassment, according to a new TUC poll.


The survey published this week (February 10) and timed to coincide with #HeartUnionsWeek found that overall 68 per cent of people believed #MeToo had led to more openness over sexual harassment, with this figure rising to 72 per cent of women and 78 per cent of young people.


But a welcome sea-change in attitudes has not as a matter of course led to a fall in cases of sexual harassment.


TUC research published last year found that more than half of all women and 7 in 10 LGBT people say they have been sexually harassed at work.


Nearly 80 per cent of women said they did not feel able to report incidents to their bosses, while a quarter of LGBT workers said they kept instances of sexual harassment to themselves because they were afraid of ‘being outed’ at work. A quarter of those surveyed by the TUC felt they would not be taken seriously if they did report sexual harassment, while 15 per cent believed reporting would damage their career prospects.


Unite has this week echoed the TUC’s call for legislation that would place a legal duty on employers to actively prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.


This duty on employers would be underpinned by a new EHRC code of practice that would force employers to take reasonable steps to tackle sexual harassment, such as enforcing a zero-tolerance policy and holding mandatory training for all managers and employees. Such training would ensure that all workers understand what constitutes sexual harassment, what their rights are and how they can report sexual harassment.


Each and every workplace should also have a clear reporting system in which reported incidents are promptly and thoroughly investigated.


Unite first joined the call for legislation last year as part of the #ThisIsNotWorking alliance, together with the TUC and other trade unions, charities and civil organisations.


Commenting on today’s report, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady welcomed the social progress made through the #MeToo movement but added that simply “talking about the problem isn’t going to fix it”.


“The government must stop dragging its feet and change the law,” she said. “Employers, not victims, should be responsible for tackling harassment at work.


“We’re calling on everyone who wants to stop sexual harassment to join us this HeartUnions week, and demand ministers take action now.”


Unite national officer Siobhan Endean agreed.


“While we welcome the global raising of awareness that the #MeToo movement has achieved, we should see #MeToo as only one part of a concerted fight to consign sexual harassment to the dustbin of history.


“Government action on this issue is now long overdue,” she added. “The onus to tackle sexual harassment should fall squarely on the shoulders of employers, who must be held to account through government enforcement. This is the only way that we can change entrenched cultures of sexual harassment that are common in workplaces across the UK.”


Endean emphasised that all workers should be aware that harassment is unlawful under the Equality Act – if they are subject to harassment at work they can report sexual harassment to their employer and seek support from their union rep to help them through the process.


“Unite works with employers to put in place confidential and effective dignity at work policies to address harassment and bullying at work,” she added.


Join Unite and the TUC’s call to introduce legislation on sexual harassment at work by signing a petition here.


Find out more about #HeartUnions week and how Unite is taking part here.

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