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STAFF and interns in Parliament are “woefully unprotected” if they are sexually harassed at work due to “glaring gaps” in legislation, a Fawcett Society report revealed today.
Parliament is effectively “above the law” on such harassment taking place due to legislation falling short to protect MPs, Lords, staff and volunteers.
MPs and peers are exempt from part five of the Equality Act 2010, which includes provisions on sexual harassment in the workplace that apply to employees, according to the research carried out by the Fawcett Society and law firm Hogan Lovells.
Volunteers are left completely unprotected and staff who are sexually harassed by a third party are also not covered.
Fawcett Society chief executive Sam Smethers said: “Everyone is entitled to work in dignity, free from harassment and abuse. Parliament and other political workplaces should be no different.
“However, MPs and peers have exempted themselves from the Equality Act, making Parliament effectively ‘above the law’ on this issue and leaving women unprotected. This is fundamentally unacceptable.
“It is vital that we increase women’s representation in Parliament, but in order to do that we need to end sexual harassment in our politics which is deterring women from getting involved and also alienating voters.
“Volunteers and interns, who are often young and inexperienced, can routinely be found working in Parliament so it should be of concern to all of us that they are left completely unprotected by the law.”
The report also reveals that 73 per cent of both men and women across the political spectrum who were surveyed said there needed to be a change in how such harassment was dealt with.
It also says that 70 per cent of people are in favour of triggering a by-election to potentially unseat an MP guilty of sexual harassment or banning them from office for a period of time.
The issue of sexual harassment has had a damaging effect on engagement with politics and public confidence, with 29 per cent of people said that such accusations made them less likely to get involved politically and 23 per cent said it has made them less likely to vote.
Dame Laura Cox, who led an inquiry into the bullying and harassment of Commons staff, said: “The views expressed in the public survey are striking.
“They reveal the extent of the damage being done to public confidence by the present state of affairs and serve as a stark reminder of the dangers inherent in apathy or delay. The report as a whole presents a cogent and powerful case for urgent reform.”
The Unite union, which represents parliamentary staff, also welcomed the report.
Unite national officer Siobhan Endean said: “It reflects much of what trade unions have been arguing and lobbying for over many years.
“The key recommendations made by the Fawcett Society need to be urgently implemented in collaboration with Unite as the workplace trade union not just to protect staff in Parliament but the whole of society.”
Jo Broadbent, a lawyer at Hogan Lovells, said that Parliament should be setting a good example for workplaces across the country.
The report calls for the government to reform legislation to ensure that everyone working in the parliamentary estate is protected.
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