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Government is ‘dragging its feet’ on new anti-harassment legislation

TUC campaign sets sights on workplace sexual abuse and takes Tories to task for ‘dithering’ on law changes

THE government is “dragging its feet” on changing the law to prevent sexual harassment, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) said today.

A new TUC poll, released at the start of Heart Unions week today, found that sexual harassment remains alarmingly high despite higher levels of awareness in recent years.

An average of seven in 10 people think that the #MeToo movement has allowed people to be more open about sexual abuse.

This is highest among young people (78 per cent) and among women (72 per cent.)

But TUC research has found that half of women and nearly two thirds of young women aged 18-24 have experienced sexual harassment at work.

The TUC is calling on the government to introduce a legal duty on employers to actively prevent sexual harassment — the theme of this year’s Heart Unions campaign.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady hosted an “urgent call” last night to discuss how trade unionists and others can fight for improved workplace protections.

TUC regional secretary Lee Barron said: “The #MeToo movement has helped people speak more openly about sexual harassment. That’s a good thing.

“But talking about the problem isn’t going to fix it. The government must stop dragging its feet and change the law.

“Employers, not victims, should be responsible for tackling harassment at work.

“We’re calling on everyone who wants to stop sexual harassment to join us this Heart Unions week and demand ministers take action now.”

The government was due to publish its response to its consultation on changing the law on sexual harassment last month. It has now been delayed.

There is currently no legal requirement for employers to prevent sexual harassment in their workplaces and it is instead up to the victim to report an incident after it has happened.

The TUC is calling for legislation to force bosses into preventative steps such as mandatory training for all staff and bosses and  setting out clear policies against harassment.

It says this would shift the burden from individuals to employers, changing workplace cultures and stopping the problem once and for all.

Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union (BFAWU) national president Ian Hodson warned that companies currently have a tendency to make sure investigations into sexual harassment run out of steam.

He told the Morning Star that companies often jump to defend their own reputation rather than backing the person who has suffered abuse.

Mr Hodson said: “[Companies] pay people off and make deals with employees to silence people.

“Normally managers, who are often unfortunately responsible for the abuse, put forward confidentiality agreements.

“This shouldn’t be allowed. When reported, [harassment] should be dealt with by employers and they must ensure it can’t happen again.”

Unison assistant general secretary Christina McAnea told the Star: “Sexual harassment is illegal, but the law clearly isn’t working.

“Staff in ordinary jobs experience this abuse every day and the impact can be devastating to them.

“A new law to make employers responsible for preventing sexual harassment is essential.”

A Whitehall spokesman said that the government takes “the issue of abuse very seriously” and is committed to ending any harassment, bullying, intimidation and violence employees may face.

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