The recent arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former head of the IMF for sexually assaulting a hotel housemaid got me thinking about the New Zealand hospitality industry and the potential exposure of NZ workers to inappropriate behaviour during the Rugby World Cup.
The housemaid involved in the Strauss-Kahn case is a union member, which makes all the difference. But by far the majority of hotel workers in New Zealand are not union members.
Sadly, the further you go down the hospitality chain, from large hotels to motels, restaurants and bars, the worse it is.
New Zealand’s laws protect workers against sexual harassment, but it’s a hard row to hoe. There are two routes – through the Human Rights Commission or through personal grievance. New Zealand’s hospitality industry is repsonsible for 10% of all workplace sexual harassment complaints to the Human Rights Commission, but I know from experience that’s the tip of the iceberg. It’s just not that easy to take this on.
If you are a young worker, not in a union, new to a job, on a 90 day trial period, are you really going to have the courage to challenge your employer if a sexual harassment incident occurs?
There’s an attitude issue here. The Hospitality Industry is not only responsible for the behaviour of their staff, but also their customers and clients. To their credit, some work has been done in the industry to educate employers about their responsibilities.
I came across this comment from the Restaurant Association in a newsletter about sexual harrasment.
I accept that some people will regretfully be sexually harassed, but at the risk of being challenged, I have formed the opinion that the majority of complaints are motivated by the monetary rewards that might result.
According to this, there’s a golden pot of money waiting for workers who complain about sexual harassment!
However, it’s not just about sexual harassment. It’s also about decent pay and fair conditions.
The government needs to work with unions and business to set standards for how we expect New Zealand workers to be treated during an event like this.
We want our visitors to have a great time, but not at the expense of New Zealand workers.