Four years ago a damning report sent shockwaves through the GMB, one of Britain’s biggest trade unions, when it branded the organisation “institutionally sexist”. 

For a union that prides itself on representing staff bullied or harassed in their own workplace, it was a shocking and embarrassing revelation.

A new general secretary promised “transformational change” and to take on all the recommendations in the independent report.

But doubts have now been raised over whether that has truly happened.

Employees in the North East said promised reforms had not materialised and have threatened to strike against their own union.

An insider familiar with the talks said action had been suspended for now.

They said the first strikes had been cancelled on the promise Karon Monaghan KC, who originally wrote the report in 2020, would eventually be called back to investigate the Labour-affiliated union.

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Issues around the handling, or mishandling, of complaints of harassment and assault seemed to be of particular concern.

There have been protests outside the GMB office

Some women still employed by the union – and some recent former employees – said they still believe sexism is rife and that the Monaghan report had not been implemented in the way they were promised.

One told me “it’s still very toxic” and that the culture is “dysfunctional”. Another said there was “a pattern of abuse” and “it’s worse than ever”.

One former employee said she couldn’t fight for people facing injustice anymore because “how are we meant to fight injustice if we are experiencing it ourselves?”

We spoke to one recently dismissed high-ranking regional secretary in GMB, who we are calling Eleanor, who said she felt bullied into dropping a sexual harassment complaint in 2022.

‘Eleanor’ felt bullied into dropping a sexual harassment complaint

‘Institutional gaslighting’

She said she didn’t feel taken seriously from the start and although she started an employment tribunal case against the union, she later felt pressured into dropping it and signing a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).

“I started to feel like I had suffered abuse and then was abused by the organisation meant to protect me,” said Eleanor.

“Where’s the empathy? Where’s the equality in how they’ve dealt with my case or other women’s cases?

“It’s just institutional gaslighting and someone needs to call it out, but calling it out is a really heavy toll.”

The union categorically denies claims of a culture of bullying or sexism

She was later dismissed for sexual harassment herself and thinks she wasn’t given a fair process of dismissal because she spoke out against the union.

In response to our story, GMB said they categorically deny claims of a culture of bullying or sexism.

They said they have clear, fair and transparent procedures to fully investigate and properly deal with any allegation of bullying or harassment.

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With regards to Eleanor’s case, the GMB insisted her dismissal was unanimously agreed by a disciplinary panel of three women, chaired by an independent, external female employment judge and that her suggestions that she was unfairly treated or previously pressured out of raising a complaint of sexual harassment are untrue.

They said they don’t use NDAs, but that staff leaving the organisation may sign standard settlement agreements similar to those used by virtually every organisation across the public and private sectors.

They are now reviewing her case to investigate whether fair and transparent procedures were properly followed.