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‘Sexual harassment is not part of the job!’

Many restaurant workers have to endure inappropriate remarks and unwelcome physical advances in the workplace. The perpetrators include both customers and co-workers. A group of Nordic trade unions are now launching a project to fight sexual harassment in the hotel, restaurant and tourism industry.


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‘This is a hidden problem, but we want to start a debate about it,’ says Drífa Snædal, general secretary of the Federation of General and Special Workers in Iceland.
How is the sexism noticeable in your sectors?
‘Drunk customers groping staff is one example. Some guests think they have paid for the privilege of harassing the workers. Occupational groups that are dependent on tips, such as waitresses and cleaning staff, are particularly vulnerable. Studies show that harassment is a widespread problem in our sectors. We can’t just close our eyes to it.’ 
Why is sexual harassment so common?
‘Our sectors are characterised by strong hierarchies, both among workers and in relation to customers. Young women are often found at the bottom of the hierarchies. Then add alcohol to this. Many people think that these are problems that come with the territory, so to speak – as if it’s part of the job to take crap from customers and co-workers. That’s obviously not right.’

What will it take to stop the harassment?

Drífa Snaedal. Photo Guðný Óskarsdóttir
 Drífa Snaedal. Photo Guðný Óskarsdóttir

‘The ultimate responsibility lies with the employers, but the unions also have a responsibility. We need to deal with this once and for all and spread information about it so that the victims feel they can come to us. It’s time for us to include this issue as a natural part of our work.’

What do Nordic trade unions have to gain from cooperating?
‘Good ideas often emerge in several places at the same time. This was definitely the case for us. Everybody who’s involved in the project sees a need to act, but we need better knowledge. The Nordic countries are known for their gender equality and like this role, but it takes a lot of work.’

What results are you expecting from the project?
‘We want to see a serious debate in the Nordic countries. In a long-term perspective, we hope that our project will lead to more and larger gender equality projects being formed.’

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This is an article about one of the projects granted funding through the Nordic Gender Equality Fund.

Latest updated 2 October 2020