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Govt urged to implement sexual harassment policy

Published: 
Thursday, May 24, 2018
Michael Annisette, NATUC’S General Secretary, right, has the attention of, from left, Vera Guseva, ILO Specialist, Jillian Bartlett-Alleyne, General Secretary NUFGW, Debra Thomas-Felix, President Industrial Court, and Joan Furlonge of the Equal Opportunity Commission during NATUC’s Symposium Sexual Harassmeny in the World of Work, at Cascadia Hotel and Conference Centre yesterday. PICTURE ANISTO ALVES

Industrial Court president Debra Thomas-Felix yesterday urged Government to establish legislation to define sexual harassment and introduce policies in the workplace to deal with inappropriate behaviour.

Such a move, she said would offer support to victims of sexual harassment.

Thomas-Felix put forward the suggestion while addressing a Sexual Harassment in the World of Work symposium hosted by the National Trade Union Centre (NATUC), Cascadia Hotel, St Ann’s.

Stating that sexual harassment in the workplace has been a relevant and critical topic, Thomas-Felix acknowledged that subtle sexual innuendoes had become part of our natural conversation.

Even our songs, she said, have been riddled with sexual innuendos, as she drew reference to the punchline of three calypsoes—Woman doh like soft man; I want to wine on something; and A deputy is essential to keep your living vital,” to emphasise her point.

When behaviour is driven by culture, Thomas-Felix said it is difficult for some to discern boundaries and have a calm discourse on the issue.

However, she stated that T&T continues to remain a conservative society when addressing any issue that pivots on sex and gender.

While our ability to respond to sexual harassment in the workplace was stymied by the lack of coherent workplace policy guidelines, Thomas-Felix recommended that such guidelines be crafted with input from all partners at work and supported by a range of administrative mechanisms and relevant legislative instruments.

“One of the challenges, inherent of treating with sexual harassment in the workplace has been to adequately define it. To date, there exists no single universally agreed upon definition of what constitutes inappropriate and prohibited behaviour.”

She said Barbados had recently enacted the Employment Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act of 2017 which defined inappropriate conduct in the workplace and provided that each employer has a clear written policy statement against sexual harassment.

“As you are aware there is no legislation in T&T which addresses the issue…and therefore there is no legal definition to guide employers and the workforce in this country on what conduct is acceptable.”

Notwithstanding, Thomas-Felix said sexual harassment causes harm to the victim and may constitute a health and safety problem.

“This is a highly-complex issue that has proven elusive for policy makers to come to grips with because it occupies the thorny intersection between sex, gender and power.”

As managers, employers and legislators, she said, we are not sure what inappropriate conduct is, its indicators, and what guidelines should be developed to deter sexual harassment.

“In my view, central to tackling the issue is accepting that sexual harassment in the workplace is inextricably linked to the balance of power, where that power resides and the abuse of that power,” she said.

Thomas-Felix said while the victim feels powerless, isolated and afraid to speak out when faced with the risk of losing her/his job, the impact extends beyond the workplace.

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