Google staff walk out globally against sexual harassment

November 2, 2018

Tech giant Google was hit by an unprecedented global walkout on November 1 as female staff led colleagues off the job in protest against sexual harassment.

Workers left their desks at 11.10am local time in offices from Tokyo to San Francisco, including in Singapore, Zurich, London and Dublin.

The Walkout for Real Change was originally organised by female software engineers in the United States. It rattled company CEO Sundar Pichai, who was prompted to express support for it.

He praised the organisers for raising “constructive ideas for how we can improve our policies”. He added that managers were expected to back the event and ensure those walking out had “the support you need”.

But engineer Liz Fong-Jones tweeted that highlighting the CEO position was “focusing on the wrong thing. What matters today is workers’ voices and demands.

“It doesn’t matter whether management claims to support the walkout. The real test will be whether the demands are met.”

Google employees made five demands of bosses, including an end to forced arbitration in cases of harassment and discrimination, allowing employees to sue. Other goals are a commitment to end pay and opportunity inequality, a safe and anonymous process for reporting sexual misconduct, and the appointment of an employee representative to the board.

The protest followed a New York Times story that detailed allegations of sexual misconduct against Andy Rubin, Google’s Android software creator. Rubin received a US$90 million severance package despite the company having concluded the allegations, which he denies, were credible.

It also highlighted allegations against other senior executives such as Richard DeVaul, who resigned on October 30 after revelations he had remained at Google’s “X lab” — responsible for projects including the development of self-driving cars — despite reports of misconduct that he described as an error of judgement.

The company says it has cracked down on misconduct since Rubin’s departure. It claimed to have fired 48 employees including 13 senior managers for sexual harassment in “recent years” with none receiving a severance package.

The walkout follows a successful bid by staff to stop the company working with the US Pentagon on developing drone warfare technology. Google agreed not to renew its contract for the so-called Project Maven after resignations.

[Reprinted from Morning Star Online.]

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