Musicians call for better freelance protections from sexual harassment

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The Musicians’ Union is campaigning for stronger protections from sexual harassment and discrimination after almost half of members surveyed said they had been sexually harassed at work, and more than half had witnessed incidents of sexual harassment while working.

The MU said it had seen musicians, mostly female, threatened, bad mouthed to colleagues, fired, not hired again and even sued by perpetrators. Sexual harassment is widespread with 61% of musicians who took the survey saying they feel at greater risk of experiencing sexual harassment because of their freelance status.

Naomi Pohl, deputy general secretary at the MU, said: “We are aware of far too many cases of talented musicians, particularly young or emerging artists, leaving the industry altogether due to sexism, sexual harassment or abuse. Many musicians who have gone public with their story are now being taken to court for defamation – evidence of the situation we’re dealing with.

“Survivors are often unable to speak out because the consequences for their career or personal life are devastating. In most cases we’re aware of, the survivor ends up leaving the workplace or the industry and there are very few consequences for the perpetrator.”

The survey of 725 musicians, around 90% of whom work freelance, found that 48% claim to have suffered sexual harassment and, of these, 85% did not report it. Reasons for not doing so were the culture where they worked (56%), followed by fear of losing work (41%).

An anonymous musician speaking to the union said: “I reported sexual harassment by a high-profile individual to a major employer in the industry.

“I was told this was just ‘lad culture’ by the person investigating my complaint. No wonder such a high proportion of issues go unreported.”

Pohl said: “The data released today exposes the true extent of the problem – and, ultimately, we are eager to work with government to better protect freelancers.”

The union is asking the public to sign a petition calling for freelancers to be given “an equal level of protection to those in fixed employment”.

Earlier this month an Equalities Office consultation closed on preventing sexual harassment at work. It included sections on protections for volunteers and interns but did not include freelance contractors.

It did however propose to reinstate section 40 of the Equality Act, which was repealed in 2013, which made employers liable for harassment of their employees by a third party – such as a contractor.

The MU welcomes the government’s proposal to implement a new legal duty to prevent sexual harassment that will require employers to take all reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, but it said it does not go far enough.

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