Royal Mail pledges to stamp out sexual harassment

An inquiry into the sexual harassment of female postal workers was suspended yesterday after the Royal Mail promised to eradicate the problem.

The investigation by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) began in January after a flood of complaints from women suffering everything from inappropriate comments or unwanted physical contact to serious sexual assault. Between January 1999 and July 2000 there were 140 complaints of harassment plus 48 of sexual discrimination.

The commission announced its agreement to suspend the investigation - the first such inquiry for a decade - after Allan Leighton, the chairman of the Royal Mail Group, agreed to implement an "action plan" to change the workplace culture.

Jenny Watson, deputy chair of the EOC, warned that there should be "no doubt in anyone's mind" that its seven-month investigation would be reactivated if progress were not made.

As part of the agreement the Royal Mail will set up a helpline and will be forced to deliver progress reports to the EOC every three months. The plan will operate for three years, but the commission has the option of extending it for another two.

The Royal Mail is using team briefings to inform staff about the issue and has appointed 22 independent investigators to handle complaints. It has also started a monthly rolling staff survey on harassment.

Maria Exall of the CWU, said: "It would be churlish not to welcome the initiative, but we need action not words. Sexual harassment is endemic. Managers accused of harassment have simply been moved sideways and in some cases promoted."

CWU officials accepted that its members were both victims and perpetrators. "The union set up a helpline several years ago, but we know we need to get our own house in order and have been trying to do that," a CWU source said.

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