An “undercover” matter that’s under-reported.
Sexual harassment in the workplace has been under-reported for myriad reasons including since workers—particularly youths and women— fear job loss.
And some incidents only reach the Labour Ministry disguised as other issues including “constructive dismissal.”
The information came yesterday from Labour Ministry officials when they and other stakeholders on the issue appeared before a Joint Select Committee (on Human Rights, Equality and Diversity) which examined sexual harassment in the workplace.
JSC member Kazim Hosein noted Labour statistics showing 13 cases of sexual harassment reported over 2012 to 2018.
JSC chairman Nyan Gadsby-Dolly said under-reporting may be due to lack of law, difficulty probing allegations and lack of awareness - by victim or perpetrator—of what sexual harassment is. She noted a National Policy on the issue was only recently revealed.
Labour Ministry permanent secretary (acting) Natalie Willis who defined sexual harassment in the workplace said even if a person was throwing “picong,” if the conduct made the target feel uncomfortable, it’s sexual harassment.
Ministry chief labour relations officer Sabine Gomez said compliments, once of a sexual nature that caused discomfort, were also harassment. But if the perpetrator was told and they apologised, it could be “left at that.”
Gomez said: “One person who came to us with a report, said they discussed it with their peers who told them ‘keep quiet or they’d lose their job’. You find a general fear among youths that they should do so or they’d lose their job,”
Gomez said some disputes also came to the Ministry disguised as other matters including some cloaked as “constructive dismissal.” She noted a Republic Bank case.
Jacqueline Johnson, permanent secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, said in the past seven years she had dealt with six such cases.
She said under-reporting may be due to people not knowing their rights, cultural nuances, an absence of policy and other issues.
Employers’ Consultative Association CEO Stephanie Fingal said some victims feared job loss especially if the perpetrator was the business’ owner. Also, she said, some employers were unaware of sexual harassment.
“Recently we had a case where the victim felt sorry for the perpetrator and was crying and wanted to discontinue their report,” she said.
Fingal said some companies did not fire perpetrators and information on their history was not circulated to other companies. She suggested mandatory referral of such people to medical/psychological counselling. She noted bullies were often sent to anger management or Employee Assistance Programmes.
ECA chairman Keston Nancoo said under-reporting may occur since the majority of victims were female, a master-servant mentality may obtain in the workplace and there may be lack of respect in families for females.
Hosein sought advice on how to improve under-reporting since he noted information that in Local Government corporations people were asked to “partake of certain activities” to get jobs.
Gomez said policies/guidelines to prevent the problem should be written into workers’ industrial agreement. Hosein supported this.
Gadsby-Dolly said yesterday’s meeting only “scratched the surface of the issue” and it would be examined again next month.