Sexual harassment off the menu

It is time to take sexual harassment off the menu. The accusations of sexual harassment and assault, which reached Hollywood few weeks ago, Women and men from all over the globe who have been sexually harassed have been sharing their stories across social media using the hashtag "me too" to show the magnitude of sexual assault. Thus, powerful men in film industry, media, music, politics and television have lost their jobs.

But how is #metoo affecting low wage earners in the service industry, who are overwhelmingly women? The problem appears to be particularly acute in low wage hospitality sectors which employees have frequent interface with customers, alcohol is involved and employees have limited control over their own situation, whether by dint of a temporary or precarious contract or being young —for them, there is still a be limited Weinstein Effect.

What will it take for hotel and restaurant workers to be treated with dignity and respect at work?

“I don’t know if people realize how bad the sexual harassment is in the hospitality industry, unless you’ve worked in the industry,” said Kristjan Bragason, General Secretary for NU HRCT, who launched the campaign #notonthemenu in the Nordic countries. A campaign meant to raise awareness among hotel and restaurant guests about the issues of sexual harassment in the industry and how to deal with it.  Hotel and restaurant workers are tired of being told to accept it as ‘just part of the job.’ 

Low paid service workers should be at the forefront of the current conversation. The discussion should be about women working in the hotel and restaurant, homecare and commercial industries that are frequently faced with sexual harassment at their workplace. However, the media is more interested in high-profile names and workplaces. NU HRCT still believes that over time, a real structural change will come for women in less elite professions too. 

There may be a shift coming soon, as employers are beginning to accept that a cultural change is needed in the workplace and witnesses to sexual harassment realize that they should not accept the current culture. The #metoo movement has spurred some soul-seeking from people who have, until now, stood by and done nothing; laughed alongside a harasser, providing implicit consent; or even committed acts small and inappropriate themselves.

Trade unions in the service sectors are at the forefront of resisting sexual harassment

Hotel and restaurant workers have been telling their stories for years. In 2014 Nordic Union of hotel, restaurant, catering and tourism workers published reports about the prevalence of sexual harassment in the industry, which indicated that a large majority of all hotel and restaurant workers in the Nordic countries have experienced sexual harassment at their workplace. In most cases the perpetrators were customers, although co-workers or superiors were to blame in many cases.

“Trade unions and employers play a major role in making work safe for women, and helping to eliminate harassment and violence against women,” said Luca Visentini, Secretary General of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). “Collective agreements have shown to be a most effective means to combat this scourge.”

A recent ETUC study ‘Safe at home, safe at work’, published this year, shows that trade unions are leading the fight against violence at the work place. There are now more than 160 collective agreements in place which have been negotiated by the trade unions in 10 EU countries addressing the multiple forms of harassment and violence that women may be subject to.  The ETUC says these agreements should encourage more trade unions and employers to:

  1. Negotiate policies, procedures and awareness-raising actions at sectoral and company level. 
  2. Produce model workplace policies, and train workplace trade union representatives to negotiate agreements and policies on sexual harassment and violence.
  3. Ensure health and safety and wellbeing initiatives include solutions to harassment and violence against women.
  4. Provide information and support to workers experiencing violence and harassment at work or at home.

ETUC report


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The Nordic Union for Hotel, Restaurant, Catering and Tourism sector, is an association of unions in Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark, all of which unionise workers of the HRCT industry. The member unions have all made collective agreements with employers organizations and companies in the NU HRCT.

All in all NU HRCT covers seven unions with a total of about 115,000 members.