In 2021, following years of campaigning, the This Is Not Working Alliance welcomed the Government’s commitment to tackle the pervasive culture of workplace sexual harassment by introducing a preventative duty and third-party liability so that workers have the legal protections they need to work in safe and respectful workplaces. The Government’s commitment to these reforms were highlighted when it ratified the ILO Violence and Harassment Convention 190. That’s why we were pleased to see the Worker Protection Bill, introduced by Wera Hobhouse MP, to which the Government has leant their full support, pass through the Commons.
We know that half of working women will experience workplace sexual harassment.1 Not only is it even higher for those who are LGBTQ+, disabled women, and Black and minoritised women but these figures are likely just the tip of the iceberg as 79% of women2 do not report their experiences.
Similarly, we know workers in public facing roles frequently suffer harassment from customers and clients. Currently, if an employee is harassed by a customer or client, they are not protected. This protection was briefly on the statute book but was removed in 2013. The Government’s commitment to reintroduce this protection recognises that its removal has created a gap in the law.
Third party harassment is extensive. 56% of women working in the hospitality industry have experienced sexual harassment as have 47% of those working in the services industry.3 3 in in 5 nurses have also experienced sexual harassment while carrying out their work.4 Black and minoritised workers and young workers are also at increased risk. 2 in 5 Black and minoritised people have faced racism at work and over a third of young workers who have experienced some form of bullying, harassment, or abuse while at work said the harassment came from a third-party.5
The research speaks for itself. Sexual harassment and other forms of harassment are a daily part of women and other marginalised workers lives, and it must be addressed. The pervasiveness of this issue necessitates Government action and that’s why we welcomed their commitments. They are a significant and important step towards creating more inclusive, respectful and safe workplace cultures which protect workers, particularly women, from unacceptable physical and verbal abuse and harassment.
Consequently, we are now deeply concerned about the inaccurate and misleading reports regarding the Worker Protection Bill.
The Bill will not change the meaning of harassment under the law. What it will do is shift the onus onto employers to stop sexual harassment from happening in the first place by taking reasonable steps to address the risks that can enable sexual harassment while at work. This will create culture change – ensuring focus shifts from redress to prevention.
Employers will be supported in doing this through a statutory code of practice, which will be consulted on and issued by the EHRC. Employers who want to do the right thing and create workplaces where their staff, especially women, can work safely and thrive, have nothing to fear from these changes. Indeed, our research suggests managers want more guidance – only 45% feel supported by their workplace to respond to reports of sexual harassment.6
We note that the EHRC has advised that the Bill is compatible with Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights – they are a necessary and proportionate means of preventing unlawful harassment.
The Worker Protection Bill is an important step towards tackling and preventing sexual harassment, making workplaces safer for everyone, and will help drive the culture change necessary to address violence against women and girls more broadly.
We urge the Government to deliver on its commitment to introduce these important protections, and we urge ministers to prioritise the voices of those who have been subject to unacceptable acts of harassment and ensure this Bill passes through Parliament.
Fawcett Society – Jemima Olchawski (Chief Executive)
Trades Union Congress – Paul Nowak (General Secretary)
Prospect- Sue Ferns (Deputy General Secretary of Prospect)
UNISON – Josie Irwin (Head of Equality)
FDA – Dave Penman (General Secretary)
Rights of Women – Deeba Syed (Senior Legal Officer)
UCU – Dr Jo Grady (General Secretary)
Community – Jennifer Dean (Head of Equalities)
Usdaw – Paddy Lillis (General Secretary)
CSP – Claire Sullivan (Director of Employment Relations and Union Services)
Musicians Union – Phil Kear (Assistant General Secretary)
Suzy Lamplugh Trust - Saskia Garner (Head of Policy and Campaigns)
Can’t Buy My Silence - Zelda Perkins and Julie Macfarlane (Co-Founders)
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