Sarah Ward, BECTU national secretary. Pic:Mark Dimmock
Posted by Sharon Elliott on 2 November 2017
At a time when shocking evidence of workplace abuse of power is causing all employers to review their procedures, with sexual harassment at top of the list, Sarah Ward, national secretary, reassures workers in the creative sectors that BECTU will continue to support members to pursue their complaints.
It’s not ok – and you don’t have to put up with it.
Finally, the sheer scale of sexual harassment that women are putting up with is being talked about it. Everyone’s got a story, and everyone is aware that we have been ignoring too much of this behaviour for too long.
Now is the time for us to join together to be absolutely clear - it’s not ok, and we don’t have to put up with it.
Having been a trade union official for just short of 20 years, the spotlight on this issue is particularly welcome to me. I have supported countless members through individual cases, but significantly – I have heard loads more stories and seen people back away from a making formal complaint – fearful of the consequences. We look now in horror at the poor advice given to Labour activist Bex Bailey, but none of us are really surprised that advice could have been given, are we?
The honesty now before us feels like a step change in handling sexual harassment, and this is the bit we must keep pushing on, we’ve got to give people the confidence to challenge inappropriate behaviour, to report it, to flag concerns. And we’ve got to make sure that those in positions of authority or influence who hear these stories, are actually listening.
Policies and procedures are out there, and whilst Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, was absolutely right to raise the negative impact of diluting equality law, there is still the uncomfortable truth that for a lot of the time, women are worried about being believed, worried about being taken seriously and worried about reprisals.
We’re wrong if we speak out, and we’re wrong if we don’t.
So this current lifting of the lid of Pandora's box is really welcome, because putting it simply – we’re not going to be putting up with this anymore.
My union BECTU (which is a sector of Prospect) specialises in supporting and representing members in the media and entertainment industry. While it’s clear that the unacceptable behaviour of some men (usually those in powerful positions) is not just a problem for our industry, it’s clear that the stories that have emerged thus far are the tip of the iceberg for women in our world of work.
Abuse of power has to stop
One of the major themes here is about power and this is why it can be so hard for people to stand up and call out bad behaviour, because there can be so much at stake. For our members, not going along with the demands of a powerful man can be the difference between future work and the ability to pay your bills. When your career depends on a succession of short term contracts it’s really hard to stand up to bullying and harassment – in whatever form it takes.
Bullying takes many forms in our industry, from the counter-productive culture of long working hours (exposed by BECTU in our new report Eyes Half Shut) to the casual excuses given as to why someone might not be 'the right fit' to work a particular programme anymore. Abuse of power is all around us in our industry and sexual harassment is one of the worst examples of that abuse of power.
One of the reasons that trade unions exist, is to even up that balance of power. We pride ourselves at BECTU and Prospect in finding creative and innovative ways to make a difference, so we’ll be challenging ourselves too, making absolutely sure that we continue to be there for our members on this one.
Solidarity and support
When you’re in a trade union, you’re never alone. Our experience, our legal expertise and our network within the workplace means that confidently, and confidentially – we can tackle these issues. But this issue isn’t just about individual cases, it’s about having the collective conversation too – challenging the culture in a workplace to ensure complaints are dealt with, and that lessons are learned. We’re all about making that kind of difference too.
At BECTU, we love the cultural and creative industry. The UK also loves the contribution our members make, both culturally and economically. So we all deserve better than this. That’s why we’re supporting women dealing with “geek sexism” in the VFX industry, and why we signed up to the Raising Films statement last week. We are calling on all employers in our industry to work with us, to own the challenges and to be absolutely unequivocal about dealing with this.
For us it’s also about growing the union across the industry – we need to support each other better so we can push up workplace standards. That means working conditions as well as behaviours and practices because where there’s an imbalance of power, there’s room for abuse and that must stop.
We need decent employment in our industry, secure work, and the voice of workers to be heard in every workplace. This is essential if we’re actually going to have proper respect – for all. Together we can be stronger and more active ensuring that no one is ever alone and that everyone gets access to proper advice when they need it.
There are thousands of us in BECTU – and we’re all shouting “this is not ok, and you don’t have to put up with it”.
We hope you’ll join us.
Sarah Ward, national secretary, BECTU Sector of Prospect
To find out more about BECTU's support visit this page