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Gropers, pinchers, flashers and worse fly Aussie skies

October 9, 2018 Headline News No Comments Email Email

“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.

A survey of airline cabin crew has produced astonishing and alarming results, with 65% of respondents having experienced sexual harassment, with one in five crew reporting more than 10 incidents.

Cabin crew experienced the incidents while working for all major airlines including Qantas, Virgin, Jetstar, Tigerair and Alliance Airlines, aviation operator Cobham and labour recruitment firms Maurice Alexander Management and Altara, according to the survey, commissioned by the Transport Workers Union (TWU).

Four out of five flight attendants experienced sexual harassment from co-workers while three out of five experienced it from passengers. Reports include serious sexual assault, workers being pinned down and assaulted, passengers exposing themselves to crew, workers being touched on their groins and buttocks, highly sexualised comments and degrading comments targeted at crew because of their sexual orientation. 

Some comments from victims recorded in the survey:

  • A co-worker pinned me against the wall and felt me up.
  • The captain made disgusting remarks about my genitalia in front of others.
  • My manager propositioned me. I never put out, so I never progressed.
  • On Valentine’s Day, the captain told a plane full of miners to kiss the female crew.
  • A passenger exposed himself and asked me to perform oral sex.
  • A passenger tried to pull a female attendant onto his lap.
  • A passenger tapped my crotch as he was disembarking.
  • Passengers constantly ask personal questions like where we’re staying.

Almost 70% of respondents said they did not report the incident with many (56%) saying they did not think it would be handled appropriately, and others (39%) even saying that they feared reporting it would make the situation worse

“These results are sad and shocking,” TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said.

Flight attendant at work

“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.”

Almost 80% of respondents said they did not think their company was doing enough to prevent sexual harassment at work.

The TWU has contacted survey respondents and is setting up an emergency working group of those who wish to get involved in devising solutions to the problem.

“We have had a lot of positive feedback from those we have contacted who took part in the survey,” Kaine said.

“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. 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.”

Of those who did report an incident, a shocking 84% were not satisfied with how it was handled. Of 267 people who said they’d experienced sexual harassment at work, only 12 felt that the matter had been adequately resolved by their company.

Reports include victims being dismissed and harassers being protected; victims forced to continue working with perpetrators after reporting an incident; and victims being forced to sit through mediation and take phone calls from perpetrators.

The survey, taken between August and September this year, represents about 5% of the roughly 8000 cabin crew who work in the industry in Australia.

Writing on the subject, the Sydney Morning Herald spoke to a former Qantas cabin crewmember, who said the results were confronting but did not surprise her.

The 27-year-old left her job after her cabin manager allegedly sexually assaulted her on a late-night flight from Sydney to Melbourne in mid-2015.

Written by Peter Needham

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