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65% of Aussie Flight Crew Have Been Sexually Harassed on the Job

Oct. 09, 2018
4 min read
Sydney Opera House and waterfront, Sydney, Australia
65% of Aussie Flight Crew Have Been Sexually Harassed on the Job
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Australia's Transport Workers Union (TWU) reported Monday that 65% of all Australian flight crew members had experienced sexual harassment on the job from both coworkers as well as passengers, with 20% reporting more than 10 separate instances.

The statistics come from a recent survey of around 400 respondents, representing 5% of Australia's 8,000 cabin crew members. The survey further stated that, out of the crew members who had experienced sexual assault, 80% were attacked by coworkers, while 60% experienced assault from customers.

Reported incidents ranged from highly sexualized and degrading comments, especially targeted toward sexual orientation, and flight attendants being molested on their groins and buttocks while walking down the aisle, to passengers exposing themselves to crew members or workers pinned down and assaulted while on the job.

Furthermore, 70% of survey respondents said they did not report the incidents for fear of negative repercussion on their careers. Out of the ones who did report on-the-job harassment, more than 75% stated that they were dissatisfied with how their cases were handled. Examples included victims being required to continue working with perpetrators after reporting an incident, victims facing additional pressure while harassers were sheltered, and victims having to sit through mediation and take phone calls from the perpetrators.

Australia’s Sex Discrimination Act requires employers to provide a harassment-free environment for its employees, and holds customers legally responsible for sexual harassment.

TWU, which represents Australia’s transportation workers, called for immediate action from airlines to hold perpetrators accountable. “These results are sad and shocking. They show that airlines are not taking the problem seriously and are not supporting workers when they are faced with what are daily assaults on them. It is clear that a culture exists at airlines to, at best, ignore the problem and, at worst, protect the perpetrators,” TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said.

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A couple of Australian airlines swiftly reacted by touting their "zero tolerance" employment policies. Qantas told media outlet Skift that the Transport Workers Union only represents a very small percentage of the airline's cabin crew, stating that the airline has "clear processes for reporting and investigating workplace harassment claims, including whistleblower reporting that comes with additional protections to make it easier for people to come forward."

The flag carrier of Australia has dismissed 12 employees for workplace harassment offenses, and emphasized that passengers who harass anyone on board — either crew or fellow passengers — are delivered to police upon landing and can be placed on a "no-fly" ban list. Furthermore, Qantas will launch a new program later this year asking cabin crew how the airline can improve its culture and reporting system.

Yet TWU alleges that Qantas has not consistently followed its own policies.

Virgin Australia Group stated that the airline was concerned over the results of the survey. “The safety and well-being of our team members is our number one priority,” an airline spokesperson told Skift. “We have a zero tolerance of inappropriate behavior," the spokesperson added.

Yet TWU says that corporate speak isn't enough to protect victims. "It is not good enough for airlines to say they have policies in place to deal with sexual harassment," Kaine said, citing “an endemic problem that is subjecting hundreds of men and women to the most horrendous treatment.” Piggybacking off of the #MeToo movement, TWU has launched a campaign on behalf of airline workers under the hashtag #CabinCrewToo. The union is also working with survey respondents who want to help develop solutions to the problem.

The numbers reported in the Transport Workers Union survey mirror a similar survey conducted by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, a US union, which announced in May that almost 70% of US flight crew had experienced sexual harassment and assault on the job. Similar statistics prevailed for victims in the US: Only 7% of surveyed flight attendants who experienced either physical or verbal harassment said they had reported it to their employers — a statistic very much in line with other industries, as reported by Harvard Business Review and Newsweek. ABC News reported that 95% of workplace harassment victims believed that their abusers went unpunished, and as high as 70% of female and 50% of male non-victims believed the same.

This story has been edited to clarify that the original report said that 65% of Australian flight crew reported being sexually harassed, not necessarily assaulted.

Featured image by Getty Images/Cultura RF