Two Thirds Of Women Sexually Harassed At Work: ACTU

Perth chef Barbara Johnson was in tears moments after a co-worker rubbed his crotch up against her in a cool room.

Barbara is among a staggering two out of every three Australian women, and one in every three men, who have been sexually harassed at work, according to an explosive new survey by the ACTU.

And in another shocking incident, Barbara also had younger staff members left distraught by the actions of a male chef.

"This man had crafted food to look like a penis and two testicles, he had used some greenery to make it look like pubic hair and he had put mayonnaise to look like something else," Ms Johnson said.

Barbara Johnson shared her experience with 10 News first (Image: 10 News First)

"You dare to do that in my kitchen and humiliate my staff? My staff were very very upset.

"Because I am the head chef I can do something about it, I picked up the phone and rang the agency and told them what I thought and they were horrified."

"This kind of thing is rife in hospitality, it's not acceptable, it's not funny and it should not be happening."

The ACTU surveyed almost 10 thousand people across all sectors including education, mining, finance, hospitality and public services.

The most common form of harassment was crude behaviour but 35 percent -- or more than one in three -- had been inappropriately touched.

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In Barbara's case she was in the cool room, bending over to get something from a low shelf.

"An older chef came in behind me and he rubbed his crotch right up against my bottom," she said.

"I jumped up in shock, I was in absolute shock. I couldn't say anything, I couldn't move.

"He laughed and said 'oh the cool room is so small' and I just ran out of the cool room I was so embarrassed. I felt so violated.

"I ran out to where I was working and I couldn't function I didn't know what to do.

A younger female apprentice chef saw Barbara's face and knew something was wrong.

"I burst into tears and I told her what happened and she was horrified," Barbara said.

"This chef is a senior chef, he's above us -- so the question is always do I go and tell someone?"

"If I go and tell HR, will he then target me? Or the younger female chefs? Will I be in trouble?"

The ACTU surveyed almost 10 thousand people across all sectors including education, mining, finance, hospitality and public services. (Image: 10 News First)

A few weeks later her team was working on a big function and an older woman who was part of the banquet team came into the kitchen.

"She was picking up something and this chef walked past her and slid his hand up the back of her shirt," Ms Johnson said.

"She screamed really loudly and she started swearing at him and everyone started looking at him -- there was 10 pairs of eyes on him -- and he knew he'd been caught.”

The matter went to HR and Barbara assumes he was spoken to but says there was no feedback to staff.

But she said female staff became hyper-vigilant.

"After that all the time you are always watching yourself -- where is he? What is he doing? Is it safe for me to go into the cool room? I made sure I was never in the room alone with him.

"And then I found myself watching the other younger chefs thinking; ok she's going to the cool room I'll just keep my eye on her to make sure he doesn't go in.

"It was horrible.

"It is very disempowering for a woman to have to be watching themselves."

Barbara said she has been in other workplaces where older chefs touched younger female staff.

"There was a young waitress, bending over into ice machine to scoop up some ice and an older chef, much older than her, walked past her with a wooden spoon and smacked her on the bottom.

"I told her she had to report it to HR and I said I would be a witness but she was too scared, she was far too scared."

While she has become a voice for others, Barbara has strong advice for workers being harassed.

"If this happens to you in the workplace you need to look for witnesses, you need to go straight to HR, you need to report it. If HR doesn't do anything take it higher.

Accountability is key. New employees must be told about workplace policy -- that sexual harassment will not be tolerated and what the penalties are.

If it does happen discipline needs to be swift.

"If you are not willing for this kind of behaviour to be directed toward your mother, your sister or your wife you shouldn't be doing it to anyone."