Sexual harassment in the workplace is a union issue

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a union issue

Young people are least likely to report sexual harassment at work to their trade union than any other group.

Staff member presents at fringe meeting

That was one of the shocking findings in a recent Prospect survey of members’ experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Jenny Andrew, Prospect researcher, presented the findings and launched a new Prospect guide at a fringe meeting at the union’s conference in Birmingham.

The session opened with a presentation from Jenny on the survey findings. She said the linear relationship between how young you are and how likely you are to be a victim of sexual harassment was notable.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the survey found a big difference in the experiences between the genders and yet despite this, men were more likely to report sexual harassment than women.

Most shockingly, one percent of participants (twenty five in total) said that they had suffered a serious sexual assault in the workplace. 

On the outcome of reporting their mistreatment, respondents said they felt they were likely to be treated differently after reporting.

Jenny emphasised the importance of communicating to members that sexual harassment in the workplace is a union issue and that Prospect will take a stand against it.

Marion Scovell, Prospect head of legal, outlined the legal context by clearly defining the terms and reminded delegates that being a member of a trade union allows you access to legal advice.

The casework carried out by Prospect’s legal team is the “tip of the iceberg” and she reiterated the importance of communicating the message that trade unions will help in cases of sexual harassment.

Action from employers

Jonathan Green, head of research, introduced Prospect’s policy on how we should shape the work culture.

In addition to the union’s role in challenging sexual harassment, he set out the actions that employers need to take including:

  • building trust
  • zero tolerance
  • instigating clear reporting procedures, and
  • being responsive to claimants.

Jonathan said the new guide was just the beginning and a “clear signal from Prospect that this is a union issue”.

Delegates talked about why so many people feel reluctant to report instances of sexual harassment. Reasons put forward included the potential detrimental effect on careers and fear of victimisation.

Reps also discussed the pressure on lay reps to represent members in cases of sexual harassment. Sarah Ward, BECTU national secretary, said rep training was particularly important. She said reps were often required to handle cases where the claimant and the accused were both members.

Our new guide includes a section on what to do if you are accused of sexual harassment.

One delegate pointed out that sexual harassment exists within the trade union movement itself. Prospect’s senior deputy secretary, Sue Ferns said Prospect was leading by example in taking a zero tolerance stance throughout the organisation.