A TUC poll shows high levels of sexual harassment at work amid concerns that new legislation offering greater protection for women is being talked out by some backbenchers.
Three in five (58%) women – and almost two-thirds (62%) of women aged between 25 and 34 – say they have experienced sexual harassment, bullying or verbal abuse at work, according to a new TUC poll.
The TUC poll found that most of these cases were not isolated incidents with more than three in five (57%) women saying they’ve experienced three or more incidents of bullying at work. And two in five (43%) women have experienced at least three incidents of sexual harassment.
The poll is published as the TUC is warning that some Conservative MPs and Lords are trying to sabotage new laws to protect workers from sexual harassment and assault at work by ‘delaying and derailing’ them so they do not pass in the time available.
The Worker Protection Bill, a private member’s bill put forward by Wera Hobhouse MP with ministers’ support, would introduce a new preventative duty on employers to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace. The bill would also protect workers from harassment and abuse by third parties like customers or clients. The TUC poll found that in two out of five (39%) of the most recent incidents, the perpetrator of the sexual harassment, bullying or verbal abuse was a third party rather than another member of staff, with half of women (52%) aged 18 to 34 saying they have experienced harassment from a third party at work.
Most often (71%) incidents of sexual harassment, bullying or verbal abuse happen at work in work premises, but they also happen over phone or text messages (12%), and online, by email, on social media or on a virtual meeting (8%).
The poll found that less than one in three (30%) of women who say they experienced sexual harassment at work told their employer about what was happening – and only two in five (44%) of those being bullied and half (50%) experiencing verbal abuse report it.
Of those who didn’t report it, some felt they would not be believed or taken seriously (39%), while others thought reporting it would impact negatively on their relationships at work (37%) or on their career prospects (25%).
TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak said: “Sexual harassment and bullying have no place in modern workplaces.
“Ministers promised to bring in long overdue new laws to prevent workplace sexual harassment and tackle abuse from third parties like customers and clients.
“But they are now backsliding under pressure from their own backbenchers who are trying to delay and derail these vital new protections. It will be a disgrace if the government allows this bill to fall.
“Ministers must urgently ensure this bill passes in full – or they will let down working women right across the country.”
The TUC has also this week expressed concerns about the announcement of proposed changes to the EU Working Time Directive. Although the Government has rowed back on scrapping all EU laws by the end of the year, it will still go ahead with some changes. Its announcement on the Working Time Directive, for instance, mentioned “reducing time-consuming and disproportionate reporting requirements for specific elements of the Working Time Regulations, while retaining the 48-hour week requirement and upholding our world leading employment standards”.
Paul McFarlane, Chair of the Employment Lawyers Association, welcomed the decision not to scrap all EU laws by the end of the year, but said the Government’s commitment to remove three EU law principles from UK law (supremacy, direct effect and general principles) remained “a source of serious concern” as it created uncertainty. He gave the example of how removing the principle of direct effect could affect one facet of equal pay law which he said is being used by tens of thousands of women to claim equality with better paid men. He stated: “Legal uncertainty can undermine any plan for growth as neither employers nor employees will have clarity as to the meaning of large parts of employment law that affect investment and the cost of labour.”