Britain’s leading entertainment industry unions have welcomed a government proposal introducing new legislation tackling sexual harassment in the workplace.
Described by women’s rights campaigner Deeba Syed as “one of the first key statutory changes in the U.K. to happen since the #MeToo movement,” the proposed legislation will put the onus on employers to prevent their workforce from being sexually harassed.
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“We want to provide the right legal framework, which supports employees and employers alike,” wrote Elizabeth Truss, the Minister for Women and Equalities, in her forward to the proposed changes. “We will be providing further protections to employees who are the victims of sexual harassment, whilst also furnishing employers with the motivation and support to put in place practices and policies which respond to the needs of their organization.”
Key points in the legislation will include employers having a duty to prevent sexual harassment as well as protecting employees from third-party harassment. The government has also proposed extending the limitation period for making an employment tribunal claim from three to six months.
“We welcome this announcement from the government having lobbied for over three years through the Equity Safe Spaces campaign for the extension of employment tribunal time limits,” said Louise McMullan, deputy for the general secretary at actors’ union Equity. “The government announcing a potential change to six months is progress but needs to be followed through urgently.”
Philippa Childs, head of the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union (Bectu), which represents many below-the-line workers including costume designers and make-up artists, said: “The devil will be in the detail, but we are pleased that the government is introducing a duty to prevent sexual harassment at work. Freelancers are especially vulnerable to sexual harassment.”
It is unclear, however, whether swathes of the entertainment industry — which is heavily weighted towards freelance work — will be left behind by the new laws.
The Equality Act 2010, which sets out which types of employees will be protected by the proposed legislation, extends to workers but stops short of including independent contractors. The only mention of freelance workers in the government’s report says they will be considered in a “wider future review” of the Equality Act 2010.
“It is crucial that any duty on employers extends to all workers, not just employees,” Childs said in her statement.
McMullan said union members working under Equity contracts should be covered, however. “The duty to prevent would be helpful to us as our members count as workers for purpose of employment rights,” she added.
In a statement issued during the government’s consultation regarding the proposed changes to the legislation in 2019, Time’s Up U.K. chair Dame Heather Rabbatts said: “Time’s Up believes that it is essential to introduce a preventative duty on employers to ensure that workplace protections for employees are in place and they should be held accountable if they don’t. We also think it’s critical that the duty should extend to cover freelancers who make up such a large proportion of our U.K. workforce (15%).”
Last month, Time’s Up U.K. proposed that the entertainment industry establish an independent standards body to investigate sexual harassment and potentially even mete out sanctions. BAFTA has called for an industry-wide summit to tackle sexual harassment and bullying in the industry.
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