Harassment in hospitality sector tackled with new website

A website called Hospitality Speaks is launching in March, which gives a platform for staff working in the food and drink industry to speak out about poor treatment.

Jane Longhurst, chief executive of the Meetings Industry Association (MIA) told M&IT: “While the Meetings Industry Association does not directly represent restaurants, pubs and bars, the wellbeing, protection and support of staff – no matter what sector they work in – should always be a priority.

“In our sector – business meetings and events – one of our key roles is to continually champion best practice to raise industry standards.  We work with our members to ensure they have in place appropriate protection and reporting channels for any form of harassment by customers or staff, that may occur in the workplace. The process for reporting harassment is also part of our AIM accreditation assessments and we recommend venues to risk assess every event booking to ensure their staff are protected.”

“There is still bad and toxic behaviour,” Hannah Norris told M&IT. The restaurant press officer has helped in setting up the website.

“Stories are put up anonymously on forums and we have had an amazing response with messages of support.” Norris added that she is looking for a hotel partner to come on board.

Victoria Stewart, the London Evening Standard food columnist, who launched the independent, not-for-profit initiative, has interviewed hospitality staff over the course of a year about their experiences.

“There is an incredible amount of pressure working in these environments, which are full of closed-off back rooms, kitchens and bars. Within those spaces a lot of stuff can happen,” Stewart said.

“Because there’s sometimes such a power imbalance between senior staff members and others it can be difficult to report incidents.”

The Hospitality Speaks website offers advice on how restaurants can help their staff. For example, there have been reports of racial abuse of staff by members of the public.

Anonymity is a key issue and there will be full terms and conditions on the website guiding people on how to submit stories, to ensure that names of companies as well as individuals will not feature in the forum.

The website will publish solutions and innovations from hospitality’s People Pioneers – the employers leading by example in terms of attracting, supporting, training and retaining staff. Each People Pioneer will be verified by a minimum number of staff who work there.

Hospitality Speaks acknowledges that not enough action is being taken to prevent harassment or to make it easy to report. There is also not enough recognition of the correlation between this and staff retention.

The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) launched a campaign against sexual harassment in the fast food and hospitality industries in January.

A spokesperson for Women Against Rape, who teamed up with the union to launch the campaign said: “Sexual violence in the hospitality industry is much more common than we all think. We don’t exactly know how common because most people don’t tell anyone. Abusers count on the victim being afraid to report it, scared that she may lose her job if she is not believed, or even if she is.”

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