A University of Queensland professor is calling on industry leaders and business owners to address cultural issues in Australia’s hospitality industry after a recent study exposed high incidences of sexual harassment, bullying, wage theft and exploitation.

Almost 400 hospitality employees were surveyed in late 2021 and early 2022 to determine whether their work experiences aligned with the five Fairwork Principles of contracts, pay, working conditions, management and representation.

“The results exposed deep cultural issues in the hospitality industry, with poor behaviours and practices that have become normalised and systemic,” said UQ Business School Associate Professor Richard Robinson.

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

While customers were the main perpetrators, 42% of respondents said the abuse came from their managers or supervisors.

Pay and contracts were also highlighted as significant issues, with almost 20% of respondents not receiving minimum pay rates or unsure whether they were paid fairly, and around 45% not receiving overtime or penalty rate loading entitlements. More than 30% said they have never seen a contract or written terms for their current job.

With the current labour shortage, Dr Robinson said it is an important to highlight these issues.

“With the unemployment rate at 3.4 %, 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.”

The same survey was administered to hospitality workers in New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland, Norway and Greece, and revealed consistent results. Dr Robinson said it indicates “systemic issues in hospitality worldwide”.