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Civil Service Unions Call for Inquiry into Sexual Harassment at UK MoD

22 May 2024 22:03

Islam Times - Three civil service trade unions wrote to the Ministry of Defence to call for an independent inquiry into sexual‌ harassment of women in the defence sector, saying it needs to make its workplace safe for female staff.

The unions, led by Prospect, and joined by academics and women’s rights campaigners, said not enough had been done to address the problem since about 60 senior women at the MoD wrote to the department last year to allege sexual‌ assault, harassment and abuse by male colleagues, The Guardian reported.

Sue Ferns, the senior deputy general secretary of Prospect, said successive revelations showed “sexual harassment not only routinely happens but is effectively tolerated” at the MoD.

“It is plain to me that left on its own, the MoD is not going to take the necessary steps to stamp this out. This is why we are calling for an independent inquiry into sexual‌ harassment in the MoD, where the department is compelled to heed its recommendations to make its workplaces safe for women,” she added.

Her call was supported by three general secretaries: Dave Penman of the FDA, which represents senior civil servants; Fran Heathcote of the PCS, the biggest civil service trade union; and Paul Nowak of the Trades Union Congress.

In the joint letter they said, “The revelations in recent months about sexual‌ harassment in the Ministry of Defence are both appalling and depressing. That so many victims, the vast majority of whom are women, have faced this behaviour is a stain on the reputation of the government.”

“Unfortunately, whilst they are shocking they are not surprising. For too long this type of behaviour has been excused as harmless ‘banter’ rather than recognised as representative of a toxic culture and exploitative power dynamics. There have been reports of this type of harassment for over 20 years, but still it has not been comprehensively addressed,” they added.

They said it was “high time that there is a comprehensive and independent inquiry into sexual‌ harassment in defence that listens to victims and makes binding recommendations for action by the MoD”.

The problem has gained traction since 60 women within the MoD, first reported by the Guardian in November, gave accounts that included claims women had been propositioned, groped and touched repeatedly by male colleagues in a workplace culture the civil servants said was “hostile to women as equal and respected partners”.

Since then, more women have come forward to Prospect and other unions, including one MoD civil servant who told of being subjected to three separate incidents of sexual‌ assault by male colleagues.

More recently, a woman in the navy said sexual‌ harassment she was subjected to was dismissed as “banter”.

A survey of Prospect members in the defence sector more generally showed about 60% had experienced or witnessed sexual‌ harassment at work.

At the time of the original letter from 60 MoD women, a department spokesperson said, “No woman should be made to feel unsafe in the Ministry of Defence and this behaviour is not tolerated. We are committed to stamping this out and we continue to encourage anyone who has experienced or witnessed this kind of inexcusable behaviour to report it immediately.”

The Ministry of Defence said the department had launched a review of its complaints procedure.

A spokesperson said, “Sexual harassment is completely unacceptable, and we are committed to stamping it out wherever it is found. We encourage anyone who has experienced or witnessed this kind of inexcusable conduct to report it immediately.”

“As part of our plan to address instances of unacceptable behaviour, we launched a review of our complaints procedure in consultation with external bodies, including trade unions who are able to input,” the spokesperson added.

Story Code: 1136930

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