As chair of the TUC women’s committee for the past year, it has been an honour and a privilege to work with such great sisters from across the trade union movement.
We have seen real progress in representing women in the workplace and have driven many proactive initiatives such as challenging gender stereotyping, raising awareness of workplace stress and mental health and progressing parental rights at work and, as women so often do, achieving gains for all workers whilst making strides for women.
The committee has also made a fantastic film this year, which challenges occupational segregation and will be debuted at Congress and downloadable from the TUC website, so keep a look out for it.
We have solidified our international networks, raising the importance of global links with women’s organisations around the world and are delighted to be sending a TUC-supported women’s delegation to Palestine in the coming months.
One outstanding piece of work, not just for the women’s committee but our entire movement, is making strides to eradicate sexual harassment both in the workplace and society as a whole. All too often, sexual harassment is lost within general harassment and bullying statistics, yet it is still a very real issue for over 50 per cent of women that TUC research shows are experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace.
That less than one in five women even report it is as equally shocking. A third of young women workers have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace — a collective bargaining issue if ever there was one.
This is exacerbated by the fact that many are in precarious work, reluctant to make complaints and often not protected by union membership. The recent Presidents Club event, where the verbal, physical and sexual harassment of women workers was reported, is an all too apparent example of this.
Employers in all sectors need to take a collective responsibility for what is happening on their watch and ensure they have strong, effective procedures for identifying, educating, reporting and eradicating sexual harassment in all forms.
The TUC this year is very much at the forefront of these demands, leading the fight and sending a very strong signal, with a statement and guidance around our values and standards in relation to sexual harassment, alongside our rules and expectations for behaviour and conduct. We recognise that our movement is not immune but is responsive in making the case for change around this issue.
We have substantive motions and a composite motion on the order paper this week, highlighting the issue and welcoming industry standards.
We hope to emphasise to employers the need for change, the need to provide support and initiatives like trained caseworkers, helplines for workers, secure and confidential reporting systems and ensuring access to justice for those experiencing sexual harassment is simple, accessible and safe.
We need to be bold and confident, calling out abuse of workers whenever and wherever it occurs. Sexual harassment is an industrial issue, a workplace issue, a health and safety issue, an equality issue and one that the TUC is continuing to lead the fight against.
Vicky Knight is the TUC women’s committee chair and president of UCU.
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