UQ study reveals culture of harassment and exploitation in hospo

Frustrated owner putting cups and glasses in boxes in closed cafe, small business lockdown due to coronavirus.

A new study has uncovered a culture of sexual harassment, bullying, wage theft and exploitation in the hospitality industry as the sector faces its biggest skills shortage in decades.

The study, which was carried out by associate professor Richard Robinson from the University of Queensland’s business school, surveyed almost 400 hospitality employees in late 2021 and early 2022 to understand how their working experiences aligned with the five Fairwork Principles: contracts, pay, working conditions, management and representation.

According to Robinson, the results exposed deep cultural issues in the hospitality industry, with poor behaviours and practices that have become normalised and systemic.

“More than 60 per cent of respondents experienced sexual harassment, verbal and psychological bullying or racial abuse, while more than 70 per cent witnessed these behaviours,” Robinson said.

“Customers were the main perpetrators, although 42 per cent of respondents said the abuse came from their managers or supervisors.”

Pay and contracts were also significant concerns, with almost 20 per cent of respondents not receiving minimum pay rates or unsure whether they were paid fairly.

Around 45 per cent reported not receiving overtime or penalty rate loading entitlements, while more than 30 per cent said they never saw a contract or written terms for their current job.

Robinson said it was important to highlight these issues, particularly in the current tight labour market.

“With the unemployment rate at 3.4 per cent, demand for workers is high but supply is low – allowing some hospitality workers to negotiate higher wages and better conditions,” he said.

“But unless all industry leaders and business owners address these cultural issues at their core, we’ll return to an imbalance of power when labour market dynamics change.”

Robinson said the same survey was administered by colleagues to hospitality workers in New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland, Norway and Greece.

“The results were consistent, indicating systemic issues in hospitality worldwide,” he said.

“The general public should be aware that the people serving them in restaurants, cafes, hotels and clubs are often under immense strain – and we should cut them some slack.”

Image: iStock/Halfpoint

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