UK union Unite is calling for concrete legislation to address the issue of third-party harassment in the workplace.

The union is urging employers to adopt a zero-tolerance stance towards such incidents and to implement robust policies that genuinely safeguard workers.

Third-party harassment involves individuals not directly associated with an organisation, such as customers in the hospitality and retail sectors or patients in frontline workplaces like hospitals. Shockingly, half of women aged 18 to 34 have encountered harassment from a third party at work, ranging from verbal abuse to intimidation and physical violence. Recent NHS figures underscore the severity of the problem, revealing that almost 700,000 NHS workers experienced sexual harassment from patients or the public last year.

The situation has been exacerbated by the removal of protections from the 2010 Equalities Act. The Workers Protection Bill, in its current state, fails to provide adequate safeguards for workers, leaving them vulnerable to harassment without sufficient recourse, according to Unite.

Call for Legislation

Sharon Graham, Unite general secretary, emphasized the paramount importance of staff safety and Unite’s unwavering commitment to addressing workplace harassment. Graham expressed concern about the systematic failure to address the plight of harassed workers, attributing the issue not only to indifferent employers but also to a government that allows such forms of harassment to go unchecked.

Speaking at the TUC women’s conference in London, Unite national officer for women, Alison Spencer-Scragg, voiced frustration over the lack of action from both the government and employers. During the conference, Unite tabled a motion calling for the implementation of legislation to combat third-party harassment.

The Impact on Vulnerable Workers

Spencer-Scragg highlighted the risks faced by the most vulnerable workers, especially those in frontline professions, retail, and hospitality, who endure frequent abuse from service users or customers. The removal of the obligation for employers to take all reasonable steps to prevent harassment poses a significant threat to worker safety.

Unite is steadfast in its demand for legislative measures to address this pressing issue. Spencer-Scragg urged the government to display leadership in eliminating unacceptable and harmful behavior in workplaces.

Spencer-Scragg emphasised the necessity of creating workspaces free from any form of harassment and abuse. Unite is actively working to ensure that workplaces implement comprehensive and preventive policies to curb incidents before they occur. The union asserts that workers deserve better, and legislative measures are essential to guarantee their safety and well-being.