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Two thirds of young women report sexual harassment, verbal abuse or bullying at work, poll finds

Two thirds of young women have experienced sexual harassment, bullying or verbal abuse at work, a new poll has revealed.

More than half of women aged 18 to 34 also say they have experienced sexual harassment from a third party like a customer or client in the workplace, according to the Opinium survey for the TUC.

The trade union body has warned that legislation designed to strengthen protection for workers against harassment was at risk of being killed off by Conservative MPs and peers.

Following the MeToo movement, ministers pledged to introduce new laws to clamp down on abuse and bullying at work, but have since watered down that commitment.

Instead the Government said it would support a backbench private member’s bill by the Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse, which would introduce a new preventative duty on employers to actively tackle harassment at work, as well as offering greater protections against third parties, for example when a customer is accused of harassing a retail worker.

The Worker Protection Bill is currently going through the Lords but Tory peers have tabled a number of amendments designed to weaken the protections.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21: Women's rights demonstrators hold placards and shout slogans during the Time's Up rally at Richmond Terrace, opposite Downing Street on January 21, 2018 in London, England. The Time's Up Women's March marks the one year anniversary of the first Women's March in London and in 2018 it is inspired by the Time's Up movement against sexual abuse. The Time's Up initiative was launched at the start of January 2018 as a response to the #MeToo movement and the Harvey Weinstein scandal. (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)
Demonstrators hold placards and shout slogans during a rally opposite Downing Street in 2018 (Photo: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty)

The TUC poll of more than 1,000 women found three in five of all women say they have experienced harassment at work, rising to almost two in three women aged 25 to 34.

Some 57 per cent of women say they have experienced three or more incidents of bullying at work.

The TUC said most victims do not report the behaviour for fear of not being believed, or damaging their working relationships and career prospects.

A total of 39 per cent of incidents involving harassment at work involved a third party rather than a colleague, the poll revealed.

Retail worker Bec Shale, 45, who lives in the East Midlands, told how she had been sexually assaulted by a customer while at work.

Ms Shale, who is a member of the Usdaw union, said she had been left “shaken” by the incident.

She reported the assault to police and the perpetrator was eventually charged and pleaded guilty. He was put on the sex offenders register for three years.

Ms Shale told the TUC: “Nine times out of 10 you brush off the behaviour – because otherwise you would be complaining all the time. But it’s not right, and I worry about the younger staff who are only 16 or 17. This treatment traumatises them.

“Things need to change. At the moment, we do that by speaking up. I would encourage everyone to report harassment they experience. But it would be great if the law changed to keep workers safe from third party harassment.

“Every little bit of extra protection helps. We shouldn’t have to go into work and worry about who is going to shout at us or harass us that day.”

TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak said: “Every woman should be safe from sexual harassment. But every day we hear stories about the extent of sexual harassment in our workplaces.

“And we know many women in public-facing jobs – like retail workers and GP receptionists – suffer regular abuse from customers and patients.

“Sexual harassment and bullying have no place in modern workplaces.

“Ministers promised to bring in long overdue new laws to prevent workplace sexual harassment and tackle abuse from third parties like customers and clients.

“But they are now backsliding under pressure from their own backbenchers who are trying to delay and derail these vital new protections.

“It will be a disgrace if the Government allows this bill to fall.

“Ministers must urgently ensure this bill passes in full – or they will let down working women right across the country.”

A spokesperson for the Government’s Equality Hub said: “There is no place for harassment of any kind. The Worker Protection Bill seeks to strengthen protections against harassment in the workplace.

“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.”

Opinium surveyed 1,010 working women in the UK aged over 18 between 20 and 26 April.

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