The training was not a good time for Marika Nesci.
Vanessa Nyfeler and Jana Giger
When Marika Nesci (21) thinks back to her training as a retail specialist, bad memories come to mind. “My apprenticeship in the electronics store traumatized me,” she says. “I was sexualized, insulted and bullied.” Nesci was 16 years old at the time. To this day, she still has psychological damage from that time.
The nightmare began about two months after the start of her apprenticeship, when Nesci bought a mobile phone including bulletproof glass from the apprenticeship company. There was a misunderstanding with the receipt and the supervisors accused the young woman of stealing. “The situation upset me so much that I burst into tears,” says Nesci. “Then they laughed at me.”
Although the billing at the checkout spoke for them, the mutual trust had disappeared from then on. The boss constantly called Nesci into the office because of small mistakes and called her stupid and incompetent. “Once he told me to move my fat ass.”
Every third person feels uncomfortable because of bullying
What the young woman experienced in her training company is not an isolated case. This is confirmed by a survey by the Unia trade union from 2019 with 812 apprentices from all over Switzerland. Thirty-three percent of those surveyed have experienced sexual harassment at work, and nearly one in three people have felt uncomfortable in their work environment because of bullying. For comparison: around 76,000 young people start an apprenticeship every year.
Philipp Zimmermann (35), media spokesman for Unia, says: “Many cases are not even reported and recorded.” Particularly in companies in which a culture prevails that tolerates “lighter” forms of harassment such as lewd remarks, the inhibition threshold to defend oneself is often high. “Our survey shows that many young people are confronted with harassment in training companies – it’s not a niche problem,” he says. It is therefore important to address the problem and to sensitize the companies.
Whether cases have increased or decreased in recent years is difficult to answer. There are no national statistics and most cantonal vocational training offices write to Blick that they do not collect official figures on this. The professional inspectorate of the Canton of Aargau states that they have contact with a fifth of the more than 16,000 apprentices in Aargau at least once during their training. Head of Communications Simone Larcher says: “Often it’s ‘only’ telephone inquiries that can be answered directly.”
“Nothing was done”
After the verbal harassment of her boss, Nesci also reported to the competent vocational training office. “They assured me that everything would remain anonymous, but that wasn’t the case,” she says. “They had a conversation with me and my superiors.” The career inspector was on her side, which upset her boss. The two got into a heated argument. “He let her feel his aggressive behavior, and yet nothing further was done.”
After the appointment, Nesci was to tell the career inspector whether the situation had improved or worsened. The latter was true. “My boss made it clear that he liked my weight loss,” says Nesci. “He even asked if I didn’t even need a penis since I’m dating a woman.” She called the vocational training office again. Their answer was: “Your apprenticeship will only last a year. Just do it in silence.”
Those affected can trust their perception
Agota Lavoyer (41), an expert on sexualized violence and victim counseling, criticizes the behavior of the teaching supervisor. “The reaction and the failure to provide assistance are inexcusable,” she says. In addition, the employer had criminally neglected its duty to actively protect the employee from sexualized harassment and to put an end to the incident. The duty of care is particularly high for learners.
The said Vocational Training Office of the Canton of Zurich comments on these allegations as follows: “The Middle School and Vocational Training Office (MBA) cannot provide any information on specific individual cases. The aim of the professional inspectors is to support those affected when there are challenges and problems and to find viable solutions for everyone.»
According to Lavoyer, those affected can contact the victim support office or the canton’s equal opportunities office in addition to the vocational training office. It is important that they know that they can trust their perception and that sexual harassment is never okay.