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Challenging abuse of power

Sarahward May2017 Markdimmock

My union BECTU (a sector of Prospect) specialises in supporting and representing members in the media and entertainment industry which has been the rocked by the latest revelations of sexual harassment, albeit coming from Hollywood.  While it’s clear that the unacceptable behaviour of some men (usually those in powerful positions) is not just a problem for our industry, it’s clear that the stories that have emerged thus far are the tip of the iceberg for women in our world of work. 

I have been a trade union official for just short of 20 years and the spotlight on the issue of sexual harassment at work is particularly welcome to me. I have supported countless members through individual cases, but significantly – I have heard loads more stories and seen people back away from a making formal complaint – fearful of the consequences.  Policies and procedures are out there, and whilst Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, was absolutely right to raise the negative impact of diluting equality law, there is still the uncomfortable truth that for a lot of the time, women are worried about being believed, worried about being taken seriously and worried about reprisals.  We’re wrong if we speak out, and we’re wrong if we don’t. I look  in horror at the poor advice given to Labour activist Bex Bailey, but none of us are really surprised that advice could have been given, are we?

One of the major themes is about power and this is why it can be so hard for people to stand up and call out bad behaviour, because there can be so much at stake. For our members, not going along with the demands of a powerful man can be the difference between future work and the ability to pay your bills. When your career depends on a succession of short term contracts it’s really hard to stand up to bullying and harassment – in whatever form it takes.  Bullying takes many forms in our industry, from the counter-productive culture of long working hours (exposed by BECTU in our new report Eyes Half Shut) to the casual excuses given as to why someone might not be 'the right fit' to work a particular programme anymore. Abuse of power is all around us in our industry and sexual harassment is one of the worst examples of that abuse of power.

The UK also loves the contribution our members make, both culturally and economically. So we all deserve better than this. That’s why we’re supporting women dealing with “geek sexism” in the VFX industry, and why we signed up to the Raising Films statement last week. We are calling on all employers in our industry to work with us, to own the challenges and to be absolutely unequivocal about dealing with this.  We need decent employment in our industry, secure work, and the voice of workers to be heard in every workplace. This is essential if we’re actually going to have proper respect – for all. Together we can be stronger and more active ensuring that no one is ever alone and that everyone gets access to proper advice when they need it.

For us it’s also about growing the union across the industry – we need to support each other better so we can push up workplace standards. That means working conditions as well as behaviours and practices because where there’s an imbalance of power, there’s room for abuse and that must stop.


The original version of this blog post can be found here

photo: Mark Dimmock