On 31 August 2020, Karon Monaghan QC published the findings of her investigation into sexual harassment and the management of sexual harassment complaints within the GMB Union. The investigation was launched after the President of the GMB, Barbara Plant, received an anonymous letter from the ‘GMB Sisters’ making allegations of serious sexual assault and sexually predatory behaviour by a senior man within the GMB.
The report by Karon Monaghan QC reveals longstanding institutional and cultural sexism within the GMB, outlining a culture of misogyny and sexual harassment. This reportedly includes physical and violent sexual harassment, one witness interviewed stated that “it is simply expected that you’ll have to suffer from being groped at events”.
The report also details the lack of robust policies and practices within the GMB to deal with sexual harassment complaints. In some instances, policies and practices were more likely to have the effect of discouraging victims of sexual harassment from speaking out. For example, the Bullying and Harassment Policy contained a warning that where false and spurious allegations were found to have been made the accusers would be subject to the GMB Disciplinary Procedure, which can result in summary dismissal. Karon Monaghan QC asserts in her report that it is not appropriate to include this in the bullying and harassment policy as it can deter victims of sexual harassment from speaking out, as they may fear the consequences of not being believed. Instead, such a warning would be better included in the disciplinary policy itself as an example of misconduct.
Employers should create policies and practises which encourage victims of sexual harassment to speak out and which protect and reassure those individuals from being victimised. Without such policies and practices to nurture openness and accountability in the workplace, a culture of sexual harassment, discrimination and intimidation can start to fester.
The report also sheds light on a culture of cronyism and discriminatory promotion practices which disadvantage female members and employees. Despite half of the GMB’s membership being women, they are under-represented throughout senior GMB ranks. For example, the report cites that General Secretaries and all regional secretaries are and always have been men. This has been partly caused by cronyism, where individuals, reportedly mainly men, have been promoted into posts that were created for them or not advertised. In many instances promotions were given on the basis of favouritism. Alternatively, promotions were given as a reward for ‘good behaviour’, whereas those who did not toe the line were excluded from senior positions.
Keeping structured, fair and transparent promotion practices is essential for battling discrimination within the workplace. Favouritism can easily be influenced by discriminatory attitudes held by the decision-makers of promotions, including unconscious biases they hold which they themselves may not be aware of. Further, giving promotions as a reward to those with ‘good behaviour’ and not promoting those who do not toe the line, as referred to in the report, can give rise to women being victimised for speaking about sexual harassment if this damages their promotion opportunities. This would again discourage victims of sexual harassment from reporting incidents of harassment and assault.
Karon Monaghan QC concluded the report by stating that a complete transformation is required to change the practices and culture entrenched in the GMB. This is an opportunity for the GMB (and many other organisations) to initiate change as an example to others.
Written by Yavnik Ganguly – Paralegal, Employment and Professional Discipline Team