GMB is “institutionally sexist”, independent investigation finds

Sienna Rodgers

The GMB, one of Britain’s biggest trade unions and a key affiliate of the Labour Party, has been found to be “institutionally sexist” by an independent investigation conducted in the wake of its general secretary resigning earlier this year.

The newly released damning report, authored by Karon Monaghan QC, looked into sexual harassment within the trade union and its handling of such complaints following reports of incidents including assault.

It concluded: “There is significant job segregation at regional level, with officer grades disproportionately filled by men and staff grades disproportionately filled by women.

“Branches are male dominated with limited female participation, and are often organised in a way that deters women members’ participation.

“Bullying, misogyny, cronyism and sexual harassment are endemic within the GMB. The culture in the GMB is one of heavy drinking and late night socialising, salacious gossip and a lack of professionalism.

“The GMB’s policies and practices are not sufficiently clear or robust to deal with sexual harassment among employees or members.”

The report advises that “fundamental change” is needed within the union, and concludes that this will require “the lay bodies [to] discharge their leadership duties and responsibilities under the rule book”.

Commenting on the document, GMB national president Barbara Plant said: “Karon’s report makes sad and difficult reading. On behalf of GMB, I apologise to all those who have experienced sexual harassment or bullying within the union.

“It’s clear that real and lasting change is needed for us to become a safe and inclusive place for all. Under the leadership of the central executive council, the union will now act on the report’s recommendations. We are committed to achieving this transformational change.”

The investigation, which took place over 13 weeks, found that the GMB “has a woman problem”, with a “masculine” culture, and that “alcohol plays a significant role in perpetuating bad behaviour”.

The report describes sexual harassment as “common” in the union and lists examples heard by the investigation as the following:

“touching hair, leering, commenting on body shape and clothes, placing hands around a woman’s waist, staring at a woman’s breasts or “tits”, propositioning young women, “sloppy kisses”, “lip kisses”, “sticking a tongue” in a woman’s ear, touching of knees, bottoms and hips, hugs, and slapping of a backside”

Monaghan wrote: “I have also heard of more serious sexual assaults. I was told by one witness that “it is simply expected that you’ll have to suffer from being groped at events”… I heard that there was a general “predatory” attitude to women in the GMB.”

The letter that triggered the investigation was an anonymous one sent to Plant, signed by “GMB sisters”. It claimed that several GMB officials and Labour MPs were aware of accusations against the general secretary and “colluded in a cover up”.

The report says there have been “other letters”. One was signed by “GMB Hope” and also referred to “sexual advances”. Another alleged that women were given jobs in exchange for sex, but Monaghan found no basis for this claim.

The report also concludes that the GMB is “not a comfortable place to be for many employees and members from Black and minority ethnic groups”, for whom “the environment can seem hostile or at least unwelcoming”.

It puts forward 27 recommendations, and the trade union’s national president has vowed that the GMB will act on these proposals to achieve “transformational change”.

Tim Roache, first elected as GMB general secretary in 2015 and re-elected in November, resigned in April. He has strongly denied any wrongdoing when asked directly about the claims made against him.

John Phillips, GMB regional secretary for Wales and the South West, is currently acting general secretary of GMB until a new leader is elected, with the expectation that this contest will be held over the coming months.

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