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President Maureen Beattie addresses TUC Congress

Equity President Maureen Beattie will address the TUC Congress today, asking the union movement to support Equity's call to change the legal framework governing harassment and discrimination in this country.

Read her speech in full below and the union's composite motion on sexual harassment in the entertainment industry.

 "Congress, I would like to begin by reading the affirmation which Equity is encouraging members to read aloud at the beginning of every new venture -

 'Every single one of us working on this project is entitled to work in a safe space: a space free of fear, a space free of bullying and harassment of any kind. We will work together honouring our differences and celebrating the gifts we each bring to the table. We will treat one another with politeness and respect at all times and, if we are subjected to or witness bullying or harassment, we will speak out knowing that our voices will be heard and we will be taken seriously. Together we can create a safe space.'

Congress, no-one should be made to feel unsafe in their workplace.

For far too long standards and expectations of behaviour in the entertainment industry have fallen far short of what is acceptable.

Some of this is because of the insecurity and precarious working that characterises so much of the economy now, and some of it is just a simple lack of respect for people doing their job.

In the entertainment industry, clear boundaries for behaviour that should be present at all times are not always recognised and at worst are ignored.

This is a problem that can extend to audiences who sometimes fail to differentiate between a performer and the fictional character they are portraying, or the dance they are performing or the comedy routine they’ve written.

Earlier this year I led the sexual harassment working group set up within our union in response to the Weinstein allegations.

We heard from people working across the industry – actors, directors, stage managers, dancers, variety artistes, street performers, LGBT+ workers, disabled workers, our black and ethnic minority members and many others.

They told us of the every day abuse they faced – and described it as the norm

Many of these testimonies were shocking and distressing, as are those of the world famous performers who have come forward with enormous courage to add their personal stories to the great movement for change. But when the media spotlight finally runs out of headlines and moves on to the next big thing, and the perpetrators of this kind of behaviour crawl back out from the shadows Equity will still be there, in it for the long haul, along with our fellow unions.

The Agenda for Change report, which was published in February as an outcome of our working group seeks, through practical recommendations, to create the culture shift that is the proper response to the recent tide of horrifying revelations of sexual harassment.

We will be present in every workplace through our Safe Spaces Campaign – its posters and the affirmation statement I read out earlier reminding those in power and those working for them that we will not tolerate bad behaviour and will hold engagers to account.

And at the legislative level we will seek to confront unfair and inappropriate Non-Disclosure Agreements. We have been alerted to NDAs which include provisions forbidding anything that occurs in the casting or production process to be made public. Similarly we desperately need and are gaining support for the extension of time limits for submitting tribunal claims to at least six months.

Too few people are able to get redress at the moment for what they have been through.

Last year a young member brought us a case of sustained harassment and discrimination she had endured at a touring theatre company. Supported by Equity she won over ten thousand pounds in court.

Speaking about the catalogue of abuse she faced she said: “One of the men talked about my vagina, my breasts. They asked me for a threesome, asked me to have sex on a daily basis. They took a picture of me when I was asleep and drew an ejaculating penis on it and put it on social media. If it wasn’t for the union, I wouldn’t have been able to take (them) to court. I wouldn’t have been able to afford the solicitor's fee, and I got a lot of emotional support.”

For all the others like that young woman we need your support as the TUC to change the legal framework governing harassment and discrimination in this country.

Thank you and please support the motion."

A delegation from Equity is attending the Trades Union Congress annual meeting in September. The union is putting forward proposals on local casting and sexual harassment, plus speaking on issues such as mental health, low paid workers and arts funding. Find out more about the TUC Congress 2018.