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Public Works is UNISON Scotland's campaign for jobs, services, fair taxation and the Living Wage. This blog will provide news and analysis on the delivery of public services in Scotland. We welcome comments and if you would like to contribute to this blog, please contact Kay Sillars k.sillars@unison.co.uk - For other information on what's happening in UNISON Scotland please visit our website.

Thursday, 20 June 2019

It’s never OK

Health workers should be able to get on with their jobs free from harassment. UNISON’s latest UK wide survey shows that this is not the case.

Following on from the our report showing the violence that Scottish Ambulance Service staff experience at work this UK wide survey indicates that eight per cent of respondents have suffered sexual harassment in their workplace in the last two years.

Of those who had experiences harassment 31% said the harassment was frequent/regular and 12% stated that it occurred daily weekly. The vast majority (81%) were female. The types of behaviour they describe are:
  • Remarks “banter” or “jokes” (64%)
  • Invasion of personal space (53%)
  • Unwanted or derogatory comments (49%)
  • Leering and suggestive gestures (48%)
  • Sexual assault including kissing, stroking, touching or hugging (22%)

Respondents also describe how this affects their own behaviour leading to workers:
  • Isolating themselves and avoiding certain colleagues/situations
  • Wanting to leave/looking for another job
  • Poor mental health
  • Losing confidence

Sadly while many talked about the harassment with other colleagues or friends and family 28% keep quiet about it. Only 23% spoke directly to the perpetrator. Respondents were concerned about formal reporting. Almost half (49%) felt that “nothing would be done”. Others (37%) were concerned about being “dismissed as oversensitive”. Almost a quarter (25%) feared retaliation from the perpetrator and 22% feared that formal reporting could harm their career. Of those who did report harassment only 15% felt that their case was handled properly

Quotes from respondents include:

“One of my team ‘upskirted’ a colleague, then sent the video recording to another member in
the team by ‘accident’.”

“A colleague touched my groin during handovers to ‘show’ where a patient had pain. The
same person also touched around my side to ‘search’ for keys that I had in my pocket.”

“I work in a control centre and regularly get sexually based comments from patients.”

“While I was on placement a patient attempted to take my tunic off, but none of the staff on
the ward did anything.”

“I left the organisation. The nurse who made me feel uncomfortable made things awkward
and I hated working on the same days as her.”

“I suffered with severe anxiety, and couldn't be left alone at work. This went on for 12
months even though reported it to a manager.”

“As a result of my experience, I am now more wary about treating patients that are
intoxicated or under the influence.”

“It was an incident that spooked me. I now purposely wear a larger uniform and feel myself
tense up if we're called to the area where the patient lives.”

“It makes me feel nervous and panicked every time I see that member of staff.”

Joining a trade union will ensure that individuals are supported if they experience harassment but employers need to be proactive. The government can also drive improvement through reforms including:

• Reinstatement of section 40 of the Equality Act which ensured staff were safeguarded against harassment by third parties (for example, patients and their friends or relatives). Under this clause, employers were liable if they failed to act after two incidents. However, the government scrapped this ‘three-strikes’ rule in October

2013 on the grounds that other laws gave staff similar protection, a claim disputed by UNISON

• The creation by the NHS of a ‘gold standard’ complaints procedure that's robust and gives workers confidence that their case will be properly considered. Having good complaints procedures will increase the number of staff who report an issue and will create an expectation that complaints will be taken seriously

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