A group of former Honey Birdette employees have burned their bras in protest over working conditions at the company.
- Former worker says sexual harassment complaints were ignored
- Workers described as “honeys” and “showgirls” by company
- Concern workers told to turn customers’ inappropriate behaviour into sales
The women say the high-end lingerie brand has a sexist dress code which they claim encourages customers to sexually harass the staff.
The Victorian Young Workers Centre said it was deeply concerned about a number of Honey Birdette’s policies.
Tori Bellentina, a former Honey Bridette employee who worked at a store in Melbourne for three months in the summer of 2014-2015, led the protest.
She said as part of the uniform they were required to wear Honey Birdette stockings.
“You have to have three pieces of lingerie on show, so your bra, an accessory and your stockings on display,” she said.
“Your nails always have to be done in the colours of black, red and nude, because it’s said that ‘ladies have to speak with their hands’.
“The shoes have to be high heels… when I worked in the company, and I believe it’s still policy, you got three warnings, busted without heels and you’re out.”
All workers are expected to buy new Honey Birdette products each season to wear to work and are described as “honeys” and “showgirls” by the company.
Their outfits must be silk, chiffon, lace or satin — no stretch fabric is allowed.
And Ms Bellentina said when workers report sexual harassment to the company, their complaints are ignored.
“You’re told boys will be boys and just suck it up, don’t let it affect you,” she said.
“And [you’re told] these guys have money, you can actually turn that into a sale.”
She said that Honey Birdette’s selling strategies encouraged unwanted behaviour from customers.
“It’s said in the little black book — give them the showgirl experience, pout at the men at the door,” Ms Bellentina said.
“When you’re told that and a guy comes in and is suggestive, touchy, asking extremely personal questions about how do you masturbate, what toys do you use — a lot of these girls [think] I’ll just say it because maybe he’ll buy it.
“There was a selling guide at one point that was telling them, [when] a male picks up one of the chemises and holds it against your body [to] let him touch you.
“I don’t want to ruin this company or shut them down or do anything horrible — it’s just these workers deserve more respect.”
Concern over company’s ‘lack of regard for the issues’
Keelia Fitzpatrick, from the Young Workers Centre in Victoria, said they were concerned about the complaints from former and current staff, but also about the company’s “lack of regard for these issues”.
“Which we raised with them directly before this public petition and this public protest was launched,” she said.
“The most alarming things that ex-Honey Birdette and current employees are telling us about is the blind eye that employees are expected to turn to sexual harassment from customers.
“And workers tell us that they’re expected to turn that inappropriate behaviour into a sale rather than treating it for what it is, which is a serious safety issue.”
The Young Workers Centre said it was illegal under the current retail award to mandate that staff must buy and wear products, without reimbursing them for those purchases.
Ms Fitzpatrick said their next point of recourse would probably be to go to the state based bodies for occupational health and safety.
“And we’ll be hoping that inspectors will be visiting stores and going to head office and checking out what these policies and procedures are in place,” she said.
“And whether they’re meeting their legal requirements under the various state acts around the country.”
Rated two-star workplace online
The Honey Birdette chain was started in 2006 by former crisis communications advisor Eloise Monaghan and is owned by one of Australia’s biggest retail companies, BBRC.
It now has about 48 stores and 250 employees in Australia, selling lingerie and sex toys.
“Our Honeys are blushing, cheeky and just a tad naughtier than you’d expect,” text on Honey Birdette’s LinkedIn site read.
“With ruby red lips and high heels, it is their pleasure to deliver the Honey Birdette experience to you.”
On the careers website “Glassdoor”, former and current employees have given the workplace a two-star rating and left reviews about their time there.
“Employees are nothing more than eye candy, made to exploit their sexuality for rewards,” one person wrote.
“Cases of sexual harassment are not taken seriously. Lots of workplace bullying here,” said another.
There are also complaints of unpaid overtime.
The ABC contacted Honey Birdette, as well as its parent company BBRC, and received no response.