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UNIONS have warned the government it would be “shameful” if it backtracks on its promise to strengthen sexual harassment laws at work.
The government is reportedly considering dropping the Worker Protection Bill after opposition from backbenchers, who said the Bill would allow workers to sue employers for the actions of third parties such as customers in shops.
But ministers are not expected to replace it with a credible alternative, which the TUC warns will leave women workers without proper protection against sexual harassment.
TUC general secretary Paul Nowak said: “Let’s not forget that women are experiencing sexual harassment and abuse on an industrial scale.
“And we know many in public-facing jobs — like shop workers and GP receptionists — suffer abuse and harassment regularly from clients and customers.
“Ministers promised to bring in new laws to tackle sexual harassment, but now appear to be backsliding.
“It would be utterly shameful if the government allows this Bill to fall.
“Rishi Sunak must not abandon vulnerable staff. These protections are essential.”
TUC research has found that more than half of women have experienced sexual harassment at work.
It also found that two in five black and ethnic minority people have faced racism at work in the last five years, ranging from “banter” and jokes to bullying and harassment.
A survey by shop workers’ union Usdaw last month revealed that nine in 10 staff had experienced abuse at work.
Concerns about worker protections come amid allegations of sexual harassment at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), which have cast doubt on its future.
Detailed allegations from more than a dozen people include one of rape and another of attempted assault.
A government spokesperson said: “We are aware of concerns raised by some parliamentarians about the balance the Bill strikes between protecting free speech and tackling harassment.
“We have made amendments to the Bill to address these concerns but will study closely any amendments in Parliament.”
The CBI said it “has treated and continues to treat all matters of workplace conduct with the utmost seriousness, which is why … we commissioned a thorough investigation by an independent law firm into all recent allegations that have been put to us.”
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