November 5, 2019


A Qantas review on sexual harassment has shown how the airline industry needs urgent reforms to deal with shocking high levels of sexual harassment and chronically low levels of reporting, the Transport Workers’ Union has said.

The review shows one in four Qantas cabin crew and female pilots have experienced sexual harassment in the last year. Just 3% have reported it, well below a TWU survey of 31% across the airline industry and the national average of 17% in Australian workplaces.

The TWU is calling on Qantas and other airlines to urgently put in place training among staff to tackle the problem and new reporting systems to encourage workers to come forward.

“This review confirms that there is a major problem in the airline industry with sexual harassment. Too many workers are experiencing sexual harassment and they are being forced to deal with it in silence while their perpetrators take advantage of what the Qantas review identified as a ‘we don’t dob’ culture. This is exactly the same kind of festering secrecy that allowed the worst predators in other industries to continue attacking women for decades. The airline industry must face up to this reality and address it,” said TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine.

“We want airlines to put in place systems that encourage people to come forward, safe in the knowledge that their complaint will be dealt with in a systematic and appropriate way. We want all staff to know clearly what behaviour is acceptable in the workplace. This is a moment in time for the airline industry to address the failings that the #MeToo movement has identified around the world. It is the industry’s chance to ensure that a new generation of cabin crew and pilots do not have to experience attacks in their workplace which have clearly been normalised to date,” he added.

Hannah Rowlands, a former Qantas flight attendant who left the company after her complaint of sexual harassment was not dealt with properly, said she was disappointed that the company failed to propose better reporting methods after the year-long review.

“It’s not enough just to say you want things to change; Qantas has to put in place systems so that crew know where to go when an incident happens and they know that it will be dealt with appropriately. In my case, I was offered telephone counselling and face-to-face mediation with the colleague who sexually harassed me. Despite my requests to not have to work with him, I kept being rostered with him. When Qantas told me they could not agree to my request I was forced to take unpaid leave to avoid working with him and eventually left the industry. This way of dealing with sexual harassment is not acceptable,” she said.

Since leaving the company Qantas has continued to use Hannah’s image in promotional materials, despite her request to delete her images.

The TWU is pushing for a clause to be included in cabin crew enterprise agreements to deal with the issue. The clause would include training for staff on behaviour and consent, information to passengers on acceptable behaviour and ensuring there are appropriate reporting systems and methods of dealing with complaints of sexual harassment.

The review by Qantas followed a TWU survey last year of over 400 cabin crew from various airlines which revealed 65% had experienced sexual harassment, with 50% experiencing it four times and one in five experiencing it more than 10 times. Of the 31% of people who reported sexual harassment, 84% were not satisfied with how it was dealt with.

The TWU has a claim on airports to ensure safe work and secure jobs in aviation which would strengthen workers’ ability to speak out about sexual harassment. Aviation workers will protest at airports across the country on Friday 8 November.

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