Violence against women and girls is a human rights violation, affecting one in three globally. It is a crisis driven by misogyny and women’s inequalities.
Women and girls face many forms of abuse, including domestic abuse, female genital mutilation and sexual exploitation. Progress falls severely short of where society needs to be.
Congress adopts the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) definition of work-related violence:
“Any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work.”
This definition includes:
i. verbal abuse or threats, including face-to-face, online and via telephone
ii. physical attacks.
The latest ONS figures for violence at work recorded 688,000 incidences in one year.
Within the workplace, violence is an intersectional issue. In healthcare, Black women, younger and older women, women with a minority sexual orientation and women with other protected characteristics experience workplace violence at a disproportionately higher rate.
Surveys have consistently shown that LGBT people face high rates of abuse, harassment and exclusion. A Stonewall survey reported that 10 per cent of BAME LGBT people responded that they had been attacked compared to 3 per cent of white LGBT people. A TUC survey found that around 7 in 10 LGBT workers experienced sexual harassment at work.
A separate TUC report highlighted that over 70 per cent of BME workers have experienced racial harassment at work in the last five years.
The most common form of gender-based violence at work is sexual harassment. The impact includes sexual harassment by third parties like patients, customers and students. UCU research found 14 per cent of tertiary education staff who had experienced sexual harassment had been harassed by a student.
We are extremely concerned about the decision to separate domestic abuse from the government’s 2021 Violence Against Women and Girls strategy – this displays a lack of understanding that the two are connected and could prevent women from receiving specialist help.
We have to challenge ourselves. Conference notes that the TUC Women’s Conferences in 2022 and 2023 passed motions about the experience of trade union staff, members and reps who suffer structural sexism, and sexual harassment, assault and bullying in our own movement.
Since then, many reports carried out within the movement have exposed abuse and power hoarding and showed the profound need for cultural change. These behaviours mirror society in general, and are not restricted to any one union – an indictment of our democracy and ability to champion equality, protect our members and effect change for good.
Women now make up a majority of trade union members but this is not reflected in many of our leaderships at national and local level. The track record has also undermined our collective credibility. We have to be brave and honest enough to say we have not been doing enough and we have to expect more of ourselves as well as employers.
In partnership with experts in preventing sexual violence the TUC should lead the way by encouraging affiliates to:
- affiliate to the ‘White Ribbon’ campaign.
- prioritise reviewing and improving our activities and behaviours so they reflect safe, secure and empowering spaces for all members and for fringe events at relevant conferences and events to hear from survivors of abuse within the movement.
- provide sexual harassment training for representatives and leaders members and staff to reflect on our own behaviours, attitudes and approaches and support delivery of bystander training programmes for representatives.
- no longer use gagging clauses to silence staff on sexual harassment
- sign-post their organisational policies on harassment (in all its forms) and provide support for people coming forward if they have been subjected to predatory behaviour within the movement.
Recognising the need for a worker-led solution to violence in the workplace, Congress calls on the TUC to extend its Leadership Programmes for LGBT+ and disabled workers and to include new programmes for women, younger and older workers.
Gender power relations and their intersectionality with other factors, such as age, ethnicity and the nature of the job, are associated with the violence experienced by female workers.
The scale and impact of the problem cannot be under-estimated. The British Medical Journal reports 35,606 sexual safety incidents recorded across the NHS between 2017 and 2022. 91 per cent of female doctors reported sexism in their workplace. Yet only one NHS Trust in England reported providing dedicated training in preventing sexual harassment.
Congress condemns the risks of violence faced by all workers at their workplaces, especially LGBT, BME and female workers.
Unions have achieved many successes of which we should rightly be proud. However, one area where unions have not been making enough of a difference is reducing sexual violence in workplaces. This should now be a genuine priority across our movement.
Congress instructs General Council to write a report on work-related violence.
The report should include:
- identifying the prevalence of workplace violence by gender, and in relation to BME and LGBT+ workers
- recommendations to workers and employers
- recommendations to the UK government and devolved administrations
Congress calls on the TUC to campaign for the government to:
- ensure sustainable support for victims of abuse, and ring-fenced funding for BME, disabled, older and LGBTQIA+ survivors
- implement a duty to fund and provide safe accommodation for those experiencing abuse, including migrant women
- ensure sustainable funding to invest in perpetrator interventions and specific funding for working with young men and boys
- meet all commitments necessitated by ratification of ILO Convention 190.
- the introduction of a new duty for employers to prevent harassment by third parties.
Supporters: SOR, TSSA, UCU