“90 per cent of bar and waiting staff have been verbally harassed”

A recent survey conducted for Barworkadvice revealed that over 90 per cent of bar and waiting staff had been verbally harassed at work. The survey of 201 staff also exposed sexism as a major problem in the workplace, with 75 per cent of all women surveyed admitting to having been harassed.

Sexual intimidation is rife in the bar and waiting sector. Fuelled by alcohol, many customers often use bar and waiting staff as testing grounds for inappropriate and lewd behaviour.

Trade Union Congress General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “We know that over 90 per cent of young hospitality staff aren’t in unions. It’s clear that bar and waiting staff are getting a raw deal, especially younger workers. So it’s clear that unions must change if we’re to be more effective for younger workers.”

“It’s an absolute disgrace”

General Secretary of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union, Ronnie Draper, was astounded with the survey results: “It’s an absolute disgrace. People shouldn’t be able to do that, it’s an absolute disgrace.”

And the problems don’t just stop at the lower-tier staff. Of those surveyed, 81 per cent of senior level staff had been physically or sexually harassed. While so-called ‘harmless’ harassment in the sector is often viewed as a hurdle one must jump over to climb the career ladder, this statistic shows this is not the case.

A 2012 study by Women 1st showed that, despite women making up 60 per cent of the hospitality workforce, 60 per cent of pub managers were men. While newspapers are splayed with stories of train strikes and NHS staff strikes, there are no clear demonstrations for bar and waiting staff. Even the voice of the hospitality sector can barely be heard at 100,000 strong marches and demonstrations. Ronnie Draper of BFAWU summarised the problem when he said: “There is a gap. We should encourage everyone to join a union.”

However, Leah Simone Wickett, 30, former kitchen assistant and bar supervisor, was not so optimistic about unionism: “I work 50 to 60 hours a week away from home and spend my spare time sleeping and catching up with my partner and dog. I don’t have time to waste on people who don’t care about my rights, about whether I’ve had some pervert grab me on my break or shout disgusting comments at me.”

“91 per cent of female harassment cases sexual”

The survey results suggested Leah’s views may be a common consensus. Even in an age of neo-feminism, with figures such as Emma Watson leading the cause, the anarchic results suggested that sexism is still very much alive and thriving. Of the 75 per cent of women who have been harassed in the workplace, 91 per cent of the cases pertained to sexual harassment. The more harrowing results were those discounted from the final survey assessment. Approximately five per cent of participants who responded to the question, ‘Have you ever been harassed in the workplace?’ answered ‘I don’t know’.

Leah agreed with these responses: “It’s just part and parcel of the job. At least, that’s what everyone makes it out to be. I always brushed off men joking about my appearance and gave it back as good as they could take it, but when a customer grabbed my vagina, I just blew it. If that was in a street somewhere that man would be done for sexual assault. Instead, I was shamed out of my job and am now unemployed because some bloke couldn’t keep his hand to himself.”

Of the survey respondents who were not sure whether they had been harassed, all recalled cases of sexual and verbal harassment, yet questioned whether their cases could be defined as harassment. More shockingly so, of LGBTQI workers surveyed, three said that they thought of it as ‘a given’ in the industry.

“Over 10 per cent of trans workers have suffered verbal abuse”

According to the Engendered Penalities study of 2007 and Gay in Britain 2013, over 10 per cent of trans people have experienced verbal abuse. This often leads to an insecure working environment, with many trans people citing harassment at work as a reason for changing jobs.

Mary Shaye-Lovatt, 27, is just one of many in the LGBTQI community that has suffered from this harassment. A bartender and musician, Mary is currently going through her male-to-female transition: “To be honest, whilst I work in a town near an army base (young, male soldiers are by far the worst for sexist, homophobic and trans-phobic behaviour) and definitely get more than my fair share of abuse and ignorance from customers due to my being trans, I think in general my employers have been supportive and have supported my right to not be treated this way at work, by barring people who engage in abusive behaviour.”

“My employers have been supportive”

The survey also exposed a large inequality in treatment when it came to waiting staff, with 46 per cent admitting they had been sexually harassed. Half of the male waiters surveyed, however, said they had not been harassed at all. This compared starkly to female waiting staff, of which 95 per cent claimed to have been verbally harassed at the very minimum.

David Williams, the Media Officer for the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, said: “Young workers are a vital part of the workforce but are often undervalued, underpaid, discriminated against and even bullied at work.”

Across the Atlantic, things look equally as bleak. A 2014 report by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and Forward Together showed that within the US, 60 per cent of women and transgender restaurant workers suffered from sexual harassment.

Skye Macaulay from Glasgow told Barworkadvice of the blatant sexual discrimination that she suffered in the workplace. Having worked at a hometown pub for nearly a year, Skye said: “I was told by the owners/managers that staff weren’t allowed to drink in the pub as a customer as it was policy.”

Some workplaces do choose to follow this route, which is not illegal. Peter Coulson, Editor of Licensing Review and Legal Consultant to the British Institute of Innkeeping, the Club Managers Association of Europe and the Club and Institute Union, told the Morning Advertiser that this refusal of custom is a “common law right.” However, despite the pub or restaurant being able to refuse custom on the grounds of private property, discrimination laws state that a pub or restaurant cannot have jurisdiction over who enters if it is based on their race, sex or religion. Skye Macaulay, however, faced an intersection of these issues.

“Females weren’t allowed in the cellar”

Despite not being allowed to drink at her workplace, Skye said: “All male staff could drink after their shift and enter the bar outside of working hours.” This discrimination also served as a barrier for workplace progression: “Females also weren’t allowed in the cellar,” she said: “Apparently females are known to have a drink and have intimate occurrences with the customers and then not show [up] for their shifts thereafter.” As many hospitality staff, Skye accepted this seemingly unfair work policy.

After going out with friends on her Friday off work, the following day Skye was given a warning not to come to work hungover again or she was “out the door” and that the “parties are over.” They then proceeded to cut her shifts close to zero hours a week. After handing in her notice, Skye found a new job but offered to work for as long as her present employer needed her for (despite the maximum notice time for that length of employment being just one week). Her employer responded by immediately terminating her shifts and leaving her underpaid in her final payslip. Skye said: “This is quite clearly sexist discrimination against females.”

“I’m sure sexism is still going on”

So, is sexism still a big issue in the workplace, as Skye’s story and the survey results suggest? “I would like to think there is not still a problem with sexism in the workplace,” Ronnie Draper said: “We organise and educate and encourage big businesses to go through equality and diversity training.” The BFAWU General Secretary didn’t try to sugar coat the problem, however: “I’m sure sexism is still going on. But, as General Secretary I don’t deal with that, but I’ve no doubt that the regional offices deal with cases.”

“The prerequisite is that they should be members of a union”

What lies ahead? Ronnie’s answer to this ever growing yet silenced issue was simple: “The prerequisite is that they [bar staff] should be members of a union, any union. If people don’t come forward, there’s a problem. If they wait until something big has happened, unions are unlikely to take on their case, which would cost them thousands of pounds.”

To find out who represents you, just go here.

Read David Williams of USdaw’s advice here if you think you are suffering from harassment in the workplace.

For LGBTQI reports go to:
The Equalities Review: Engendered Penalties 2007
or Stonewall: Gay in Britain 2013

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Survey of 201 bar, waiting and senior level service staff on harassment in the workplace.
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