Pupil workforce facing harassment by sex pests

The Unions into Schools project is helping youngsters to learn about their rights at work. Picture: Frazer Band
The Unions into Schools project is helping youngsters to learn about their rights at work. Picture: Frazer Band
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Scotland’s teenage school pupils are facing sexual harassment from employers and customers at their part-time jobs, say union officials.

The Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) says many pupils working in cafés and restaurants are reporting being told by their employer that sexual harassment from customers is “just part and parcel” of the work.

Sarah Wiktorski, campaigns and communications officer, said that the STUC’s Union into Schools project, which sends speakers into state and private schools, is uncovering issues which would otherwise remain largely unchallenged by the pupil workforce.

“These younger people don’t have the knowledge or confidence to challenge behaviour which is quite scary and upsetting. They know they are very replaceable, they are very aware of that.

“But with sexual harassment we’re not just talking about the issue, we tell them there are ways they can stop it. It can be actions such as getting together with colleagues and recording incidents. We are educating them that customers and bosses don’t have the legal right to treat them like that.”

Other issues uncovered include older pupils struggling with zero hours contracts, not knowing they are paid less than older people for doing the same job, not being aware they are entitled to breaks, bullying, and worrying about getting home safely late at night because they cannot afford a taxi.

Union representatives said the taxi issue struck a chord with many pupils who were concerned about their friends.

Ross Greer, Scottish Green MSP, and his party’s education spokesman, said pupils should learn about their rights at work and the role of unions through school PSE (personal and social education) lessons .

Terry Anderson, STUC union and community development officer, said school sessions also “upskilled” union reps who got first-hand testimony from youngsters in the gig economy.

“I’m 51 and I’ve never worked a zero hours contract when you don’t know when your next shift is and have to keep checking your phone at all hours. These pupils are dealing with things experienced trade unionists have never experienced. But there is a lot of work to do. I remember one girl asking ‘what have unions got to do with hairdressing?’ which was actually a very good question and provided a good starting-point for a discussion.”

The Scottish Government has provided funding support for the project since 2010, giving £23,500 last year with a similar level of funding likely this year.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “As young people prepare for the world of work it is vital they are familiar with the rights and responsibilities associated with the workplace.

“The Unions into Schools project is a great resource helping young people develop the confidence and knowledge to ask questions and understand the importance of equal rights, while also making them aware of their responsibilities as employees and citizens.”