Labour women urge party to apologise over use of NDAs for sexual harassment

Sienna Rodgers

12 women on Labour’s ruling body and national women’s committee have urged the party to apologise following reports it tried to use confidentiality agreements to silence two staffers who had complained of sexual harassment.

In a letter to general secretary David Evans and party chair Anneliese Dodds, the women say such non-disclosure agreements are “a gross betrayal of Labour values” and call on the leadership to end their use and offer redress to any women affected.

It was signed by seven Labour national executive committee (NEC) members – Ann Henderson, Nadia Jama, Yasmine Dar, Gemma Bolton, Andi Fox, Ellen Morrison and Lara McNeill – and five women’s committee members – Ekua Bayunu, Chloe Hopkins, Solma Ahmed, Tricia Duncan and Jean Sharrocks.

The BBC exclusively reported on Saturday that two former Labour staff – Laura Murray and Georgie Robertson – were asked to sign confidentiality agreements after they both made complaints of sexual harassment about the same senior official.

Murray, Labour’s head of complaints at the time, and Robertson, a press officer, initially raised concerns informally about the official. He was told about their complaints by HR without their consent and suspended before being reinstated.

Both women later submitted formal grievances, reporting the senior party official for “inappropriate” and “possessive” behaviour. They told the BBC that the complaints were “never dealt with seriously” by the party.

Murray and Robertson are part of the group of five who have since been accused by Labour of leaking a controversial internal report, the so-called ‘Labour leaks’ report.

When trying to negotiate their exit amid uncertainty over their jobs due to the report leaking, they say they were asked by Labour lawyers to sign a settlement agreement with a broad confidentiality clause. Both are understood to have refused to sign the agreement and in doing so turned down months of pay.

A Labour Party spokesperson said: “The Labour Party takes any complaints of sexual harassment extremely seriously, which are fully investigated and any appropriate disciplinary action is taken in line with the Party’s rules and procedures.”

A Labour source said that the party does not use non-disclosure agreements that would stop anyone speaking out about sexual harassment.

Below is the full text of the letter to David Evans and Anneliese Dodds.

The undersigned are members of the Labour Party’s National Women’s Committee or women members of the Labour NEC. Elected by the women members to support and protect women in the party, to help them grow politically, take up positions of leadership in the party and support them to support their communities everywhere.

We are guided in this work by the Labour Party’s own published guidance. Its Code of Conduct. We quote:

“Every person has the right to report sexual harassment and have their complaint investigated. It is vital that the Labour Party provides an opportunity for cases of sexual harassment to be investigated and heard in a way that is fair to both the complainant and respondent. Sometimes a person accused of harassment retaliates by further harassing or bullying the person who has lodged a complaint and this is called victimisation.”

We are therefore appalled to see these reports about mistreatment and sexual harassment of women working for the party. We can’t fight to end sexual harassment in society if we don’t also address it within our party.

Trying to persuade women to sign NDAs to cover up abuse is a gross betrayal of Labour values and we call on our leadership to acknowledge its duty of care and its responsibility towards all women within the party, members and staffers and to end this practice, apologise to any women caught up in this victimisation and seek to offer them redress.

Women in the Labour Party recently passed motions at our National Annual Women’s Conference which included calling for a campaign for a mandatory duty of care on employers to protect workers from harassment and recognising the importance of tackling discrimination in the workplace as part of the wider strategy of ending violence against women. We are therefore echoing the powerful voice of all our membership in making this statement in support of Laura Murray and Georgie Robertson.

We offer solidarity with these two women who have come forward and with any woman who has experienced harassment in the workplace and ask that the party leadership is transparent in its attempts to change its culture and abide by the same rules about our code of conduct as is expected of the membership.

Signed:

Ekua Bayunu
Chloe Hopkins
Solma Ahmed
Ann Henderson
Tricia Duncan
Nadia Jama
Yasmine Dar
Gemma Bolton
Andi Fox
Ellen Morrison
Lara McNeill
Jean Sharrocks

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