Starmer acts to protect women who blow whistle on sex-pest bosses

Women who are bullied and sexually harassed in the workplace will be given new protections as whistleblowers under a Labour government.

In another landmark change, common-law wives who live with their partners will also get the same rights, including over property, as married women should their relationship end.

In a major coup for Labour, eminent barrister Marina Wheeler KC, Boris Johnson’s former wife, is to be appointed Labour’s “whistleblowing tsar” to advise on their reforms.

Ms Wheeler is the second high-profile woman to take a key job with Keir Starmer’s team.

Last month, Sue Gray, the Whitehall mandarin who wrote the Partygate report on drinks parties in No 10 which contributed to Mr Johnson’s downfall, started work as Starmer’s chief of staff.

In a speech to the Labour conference on Tuesday, shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry will say the whistleblowing and common-law wife reforms will mean women do not have to “live in fear… suffer in silence and … hope for the best when it comes to keeping a roof over her head”.

She will declare: “That is the difference between a Tory government that pretends to care about women’s rights, and a Labour Party that delivers them.”

Ms Wheeler said it was a “privilege” to help Labour protect women from abusive colleagues.

Women in the workplace “too often suffer sexual harassment and assault and they pay a heavy price for speaking out. Knowing this, and to keep their jobs, they suffer in silence,” Ms Wheeler told The Independent.

She highlighted the revelation earlier this year that one in three female surgeons had reported sexual harassment or assault at the hands of colleagues over the last five years.

Ms Wheeler, an expert in employment law, said she was “delighted to be working with Emily Thornberry to help formulate solutions – including law reform where necessary – to encourage women to come forward, trusting that they will not be penalised for having done so. It will be a privilege to help deliver this.”

In recent years, several MPs have been accused of using their power to sexually harass and bully members of staff and others.

The Labour move also follows allegations of rape and sexual scandal against comedian Russell Brand. The claims came to light after a number of women broke years of silence over the matter. Mr Brand denies the allegations.

In her speech, Ms Thornberry will say victims of sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination in the workplace are entitled to the same protection as whisteleblowers.

“No woman should be forced to stay quiet for fear of being sacked,” she will add.

Whistleblowers are entitled to protection against losing their job or otherwise suffering as a result of speaking out.

But the law currently applies to only a small number of areas, such as health and safety and potential miscarriages of justice.

The government’s current guidelines on whistleblowers warn that “personal grievances”, including bullying and harassment, are not covered by whistleblowing laws unless the case “is in the public interest”.

Female surgeons recently lifted the lid on harassment, which they said was rife in their profession, but many said they feared speaking out because of the damage it could do to their careers.

Last month, Sue Gray, the Whitehall mandarin who wrote the Partygate report on drinks parties in No 10, started work as Starmer’s chief of staff.

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