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Saturday 20 April 2019
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Thomas-Felix: Bring laws to deal with sexual harassment

INDUSTRIAL COURT president Debra Thomas-Felix has suggested that legislation may be the best first step to deal with sexual harassment which seems embedded in Trinidadian society.

“I respectfully suggest that the best place to start may be with legislation which defines sexual harassment, along with the introduction and the initiation of workplace policies which specifically address behaviour which is unacceptable in the world of work,” she said.

Thomas-Felix was speaking at a symposium organised by the National Trade Union Center titled Sexual Harassment in the World of Work, at the Cascadia Hotel, Cascade yesterday.

She said the issue was a difficult one as Trinbagonians were culturally “a people who communicate with subtle sexual innuendos as a natural part of the conversation.”

“Many of our songs are riddled with sexual undertones such as, “Woman doh like soft man”, “Ah want to wine on something”, “Ah deputy essential to keep your living vital” and “Feel like I’m in the Red Light District”. Additionally, ours is a tactile culture and when behaviour is embedded and, to some extent, driven by culture, it is often difficult for some to discern boundaries and it is also difficult for most of us to have a calm, dispassionate discourse on the topic.”

She said sexual innuendos and cat calls are now internationally acknowledged as a form of sexual harassment while sexual harassment in the workplace is not one of the topics which is discussed openly.

Thomas-Felix said one of the challenges facing TT was the absence of the requisite legislation and cited Barbados which had recently enacted the Employment (Prevention of Sexual Harassment) Act of 2017 which defined inappropriate conduct in the workplace.

“As you are aware, there is no legislation in Trinidad and Tobago which addresses the issue and therefore there is no legal definition to guide employers and the workforce on what conduct is acceptable.

“As managers, administrators, employees, legislators, we are not sure what is appropriate conduct, what are the 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 in the workplace, where that power resides and the abuse of that power.”

She said sexual harassment did not only occur between a male boss and female subordinate but also occur between persons of the same sex; peer-to-peer; female to male where offenders can be supervisors, co-workers or non-employees such as customers, suppliers or vendors.

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