GMB Union 'Institutionally Sexist', Independent Report Concludes

An investigation by Karon Monaghan QC found bullying, misogyny, cronyism and sexual harassment were endemic.

One of Britain’s biggest trade unions is “institutionally sexist”, a damning independent report has found.

The GMB union, whose general secretary Tim Roache suddenly quit this year amid allegations of misconduct, needs “fundamental change” the probe by barrister Karon Monaghan QC concluded.

“Bullying, misogyny, cronyism and sexual harassment are endemic within the GMB,” the report said.

“The culture in the GMB is one of heavy drinking and late night socialising, salacious gossip and a lack of professionalism.”

The GMB has more than 600,000 members across many job sectors, including NHS staff, ambulance drivers, school cleaners, council staff, security staff and a range of manufacturing workers.

The report - which covered the period 2010 to 2020 and interviewed three former general secretaries - added: “The GMB’s policies and practices are not sufficiently clear or robust to deal with sexual harassment among employees or members.

“The GMB is institutionally sexist. The general secretaries and all regional secretaries are, and always have been, men. Women are underrepresented throughout the GMB’s ranks.”

Monaghan was asked in May to conduct an investigation into a “number of very serious allegations made by way of anonymous correspondence”.

Former general secretary Tim Roache
Former general secretary Tim Roache

An unsigned letter circulated to senior members of the union made a string of misconduct allegations against Roache.

The union opted to order an inquiry not into the specific allegations but into the wider culture within its ranks.

The final report - which was based on 150 different submissions and interviews with 39 individuals - is withering in is assessment of the deep problems that affect the union at all levels.

Even though more than half of its members are women, “job segregration” along gender lines means the top officer posts are held by men. Women are instead sidelined in ‘staff’ roles such as “secretarial, finance management, reception, admin, cleaners”.

Monaghan concluded there was “stereotyping around male and female roles”.“When women do succeed in achieving more senior
roles, it is often said that they have ‘slept their way to the top’,” she wrote.

Local branches of the union often deter women because their meetings are held in the pub after work. “They are typically run, I was told, by ‘geezers’ and
much like other aspects of the regions, on a ‘job for the boys’ basis,” the report says.

In one of the most damning sections of the report, it found that sexual harassment was “common in the GMB” and was regular at its booze-fuelled annual Congress. There was a “predatory attitude” towards women.

“Examples of sexual harassment I heard about included touching hair, leering, commenting on body shape and clothes, placing hands around a woman’s waist, staring at a woman’s breasts or “tits”, propositioning young women, “sloppy kisses”, “lip kisses”, “sticking a tongue” in a woman’s ear, touching of knees, bottoms and hips, hugs, and slapping of a backside.

“Sometimes sexual harassment is used as a form of bullying with examples given to me of men deliberately sexually harassing women in public to humiliate and embarrass them. I have also heard of more serious sexual assaults. I was told by one witness that ’it is simply expected that you’ll have to suffer from being groped at events.”

The report calls for strong disciplinary action against sexual harassers and the break up of the current powers of the general secretary and regional secretaries who effectively run the union, with ‘lay’ members instead given much more oversight and control.

The human resources department, which has just two members, should be hugely expanded and equalities put at the heart of the structure and rules of the union. Its bullying and harassment policies should be totally overhauled and strengthened, Monaghan said.

She also concluded: “I am satisfied that the GMB is not a comfortable place to be for many employees and members from Black and minority ethnic groups.”

Barbara Plant, national president of the GMB, had supported the inquiry to ensure that the “safety of our people, particularly women” was paramount.

Plant said on Wednesday that the union’s Central Executive Council would now act on the recommendations to deliver “transformational change”.

“Karon’s report makes sad and difficult reading. On behalf of GMB, I apologise to all those who have experienced sexual harassment or bullying within the union.

“It’s clear that real and lasting change is needed for us to become a safe and inclusive place for all.”

Among submissions to the inquiry was one from a Labour MP which claimed the union had “a real cultural issue with sexual harassment which went from the top to the bottom of the organisation.”

Roache stepped down in April after 40 years at the GMB, citing chronic fatigue syndrome as the reason for his departure. But his resignation, just months after he was reelected to his post in November, sparked claims he was forced out.

The move led to bitter infighting, with claim and counter-claim of bullying and misconduct.

Roache was first elected in 2015, when he succeeded Sir Paul Kenny as the union’s chief.

More than 50 Labour MPs are members of the union and its representatives play a key role on its ruling National Executive Committee.

One Labour MP, who is a member of the union, was scathing. They told HuffPost UK that the report confirmed that “GMB is a union controlled by the male, pale and sometimes stale”.

“At GMB the Regional Secretaries are seen as untouchable, not to be challenged and they’re all men. If they don’t want any change it never happens.

“This whole culture has been built up over decades – unaccountable power, big pay offs for mates even if they’ve completely failed in their jobs, bullying of anyone who descents or questions the wisdom of the regions, the denigration of women who are seen to step out of line and jobs for the boys.”

It backed Lisa Nandy in the recent Labour leadership contest and Roache was seen as critical of Jeremy Corbyn during his reign.

John Phillips, GMB regional secretary for Wales and South West, has been appointed the union’s acting general secretary until a replacement for Roache is elected.

The union will next consider a timetable for the election to start possibly within weeks, but it is unlikely to see a new boss in place until next spring.

The race is expected to turn into a contest between Scottish regional secretary Gary Smith and national secretary Rehana Azam.

Azam tweeted her reaction to the report.


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