Most cabin crew members are sexually assaulted at work, the results of a new survey show, and the Transport Workers Union (TWU) is calling on airlines to do something about it.
It seems the ‘chat up the barmaid’ culture is as prevalent in the air as it is on the ground. And so often, flight attendants are placed at the mercy of unruly passengers, who are sometimes drunk, sometimes frustrated at the lack room to move or just plain rude and abusive and feel that flighties are at their beck and call beyond bringing them drinks and snacks.
Airplanes are the perfect place for abuse to take place, say some cabin crew.
“We’re all working in such close proximity to each other. They [perpetrators] might think ‘well we’re all stuck here, where are they going to go?',” said former Qantas crew member Hannah Rowlands.
“Really, this is the perfect place – there’s nowhere they can hide from you.”
The TWU survey of 419 cabin crew backs up this opinion. From it, we learnt that:
- two in three (65 per cent) respondents said they had been harassed by a colleague or a passenger during work, but most incidents were never reported, with 39 per cent saying they feared reporting it would make the situation worse
- seven in ten assault or abuse victims did not inform their employer of the incident, and 84 per cent of those who did report were not happy with how the complaint was handled
- incidents ranged from serious sexual assault to groping and lascivious comments
- 80 per cent did not think their company was doing enough to prevent sexual harassment
- around half of those who had been harassed said it happened to them more than four times
- of those who reported their gender, 71 per cent were female and 29 per were male
- one in five crew reported more than 10 incidents.
“It is clear that a culture exists at airlines to at best ignore the problem and at worst protect the perpetrators,” said TWU national secretary Michael Kaine.
“We are touched on the groin and buttocks region every single day, sometimes every single flight.” That’s an Australian flight attendant speaking and the airlines involved are household names.
Cabin crew from major airlines including Qantas, Virgin, Jetstar, Tigerair, and Alliance Airlines and various aviation labour recruitment firms experienced harassment. Common assaults reported included being pinned against a wall and fondled, having genitalia and buttocks felt, being propositioned by senior staff, and then, when refusing to comply, being overlooked for possible progression in the workplace.
One crew member said a man exposed himself to her and asked her to perform oral sex. Another said that, on Valentine’s Day, the captain told a planeload of miners to kiss the female crew. There are also accounts of sexualisation and discrimination – these are but a few comments made by survey participants.
“These results are sad and shocking,” said Mr Kaine.
“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. Today we are lifting the lid on this widespread problem and demanding a change to the way sexual harassment of cabin crew is dealt with.
“We have had a lot of positive feedback from those we have contacted who took part in the survey.”
Qantas and Virgin Australia have responded to the survey, saying they each have zero tolerance on inappropriate behaviour. Mr Kaine thinks this may just be lip service.
“Many people want to see this issue exposed and dealt with. It is not good enough for airlines to say they have policies in place to deal with sexual harassment,” he said.
“We know there are factors which exacerbate this problem for cabin crew: the hierarchical nature of their work environment, the overnights that are part of their job and the strict dress codes which govern their appearance. Our survey shows there is an endemic problem that is subjecting hundreds of men and women to the most horrendous treatment.”
Read more at www.abc.net.au
Have you ever witnessed sexual harassment on a flight? Have you ever been involved in such acts? What would you do if you saw or heard such abuse? Do flight attendants deserve better?
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