Sarah Ward, BECTU national secretary. Pic: Mark Dimmock
21 June 2018
Sexual harassment at work is a trade union issue. That’s the strong message contained in a new Workplace Guide to Dealing with Sexual Harassment jointly produced by BECTU and Prospect.
Another key message is that the cause of sexual harassment always lies with the perpetrator, and never with the subject. Nor is it the responsibility of the subject of sexual harassment to prevent it from happening.
In the guide real members share their experiences anonymously adding weight to the advice and help for individuals, union reps and employers on offer.
The document is broken down into chapters, covering:
- what sexual harassment is
- its origins and consequences
- who suffers
- advice for individuals on how to respond
- what union reps can do at a workplace level to create a culture of respect
- details of the legal rights of sufferers.
In addition a small section sets out advice for people accused of harassment.
Many factors influence the incidence and experience of sexual harassment, including maternity, disability and sexual orientation. Ultimately no individual or demographic is immune, the guide says. Most of those who suffer sexual harassment are women, though victims are not always women and harassers are not always men.
The guide was launched earlier this month at Prospect's annual conference alongside the findings of a whole union survey which benefitted from more than 7,000 responses (40% female; 60% male). The survey results revealed that 35% of women respondents had experienced sexual harassment rising to 62% amongst younger women. Young people were also least likely to tell their union. One per cent of respondents had suffered a serious sexual assault at work.
Sufferers of sexual harassment, including witnesses, can experience damage to their mental and physical health; sexual harassment also has an impact on their work satisfaction and ability to engage with professional activities, the guide explains.
One BECTU member is quoted as saying:
“Sexism, racism and other forms of ‘banter’ are so rife amongst men inside the film industry I fear it would lead to work being withheld from me if I was to speak up or report it. I do try to not work with crews that are more likely to display such behaviour, but it can’t be helped sometimes.”
Another member points out:
“There seems to be a sense that you can get away with certain behaviour on location more so than in an office, for example. People’s inhibitions are lowered as a result. It seems people are likely to show their true selves when there are fewer perceived boundaries.”
Unusual work situations
The guide is very specific on the need for policies to address unusual work situations, advising union reps to press employers to assess and set guidelines for:
- one-to-one interactions, such as on late shifts, remote site visits, single point of contact management
- situations where one person makes decisions about career development opportunities
- close-quarters working, such as for certain technical roles; where some physical contact is accepted as part of the job, sexual harassers may feel less inhibited to progress to inappropriate physical contact
- instances where blurred boundaries exist between work and leisure, such as at conferences, during fieldwork or at office socials. It must be clear that workplace policies apply to all work activities.
In the section on advice for individuals, the guide stresses the importance of keeping written records of incidents, dates, witnesses and any action taken and strongly encourages victims to talk to their local rep or full-time BECTU official.
Challenge for employers
The message to employers is clear: cultivating a respectful workplace is the single most valuable protection against sexual harassment and other unwanted behaviours. Decisive action against perpetrators is also essential in demonstrating the employer’s attitude to sexual harassment.
Help for BECTU members
- Call BECTU head office on 020 7346 0900 between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Thursday (4.30pm on Friday), to speak to your full-time official.
- Talk to your workplace rep (contact BECTU head office if you don't know who that is).
- The union also employs specialist legal and equalities staff who your full-time official can direct you to if needs be.
The guide is the work of a team of union officials across Prospect, including Sarah Ward, the BECTU sector's national secretary who heads up the BBC, Independent Broadcasting and Arts and Entertainment Divisions.
Other industry help
- BECTU worked with the BFI and BAFTA on its Guidance and Principles to tackle and prevent bullying and harassment in the screen industries launched in February 2018;
- The Society of London Theatre (SOLT) and UK Theatre have recently launched a free and confidential helpline to support theatre professionals with any issue affecting their health or wellbeing. Tel: 0800 915 4617 or email: email@example.com
- The Film and TV Charity has a free advice helpline for people in these sectors. Tel: 0800 054 0000.
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