Time for policy to become law

Chief Labour Officer Sabina Gomez - David Reid
Chief Labour Officer Sabina Gomez - David Reid

THIS MONTH marks fours years since the National Workplace Policy on Sexual Harassment was tabled in Parliament. To date, however, that ground-breaking policy is yet to be converted into legislation. It is time for that to change.

A law outlawing sexual harassment is overdue. So prevalent is this problem that even a former minister of labour was herself once a victim when in the private sector.

It is no surprise, therefore, to hear from Chief Labour Officer Sabina Gomez that cases before her have been so distressing that even she needed therapy.

Ms Gomez was speaking at a seminar on sexual harassment in the workplace at the Magdalena Grand Beach & Golf Resort, Lowlands, Tobago. At the same event on Tuesday, Deputy Chief Secretary Dr Faith BYisrael questioned why equity between men and women was taking so long.

“Why is it taking us such a long time to get there?” she said.

We could ask the same when it comes to legislation.

Sexual harassment can be perpetrated by and against a person of any gender, but most cases involve female victims. According to official statistics, at least 13 per cent of women report being subject to workplace harassment. However, as much as 84 per cent of cases are unreported.

The decision to promulgate a policy in 2019 was undoubtedly informed by concerns over the fact that within our culture there is a thin line between picong and harassment.

Yet, what should matter most is not the belief or intention of the perpetrator of an action but rather the experience of the victim involved.

A draft bill on this very issue is currently before the Ministry of the Attorney General, according to reports. Such legislation should be expedited.

By now, especially after the #MeToo movement which has swept the world, it should be understood and appreciated that certain kinds of conduct within a workplace are simply unacceptable.

It is true that there are already various laws dealing with this problem, including the Industrial Relations Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act and the Equal Opportunity Act.

However, these laws were never tailored to deal with the special nuances involved in these types of cases. Nor do they send a strong enough signal to the population.

In the case of the equal opportunity law, the number of cases filed per year tends to be in the single digits. And in some instances, complainants have effectively been barred because of their sexuality.

Leaving this matter at the level of policy effectively abrogates the State’s responsibility to private human resources departments. That should not be.

Meanwhile, our Caricom neighbours like Jamaica, Barbados and Belize already have laws. Why don’t we?


"Time for policy to become law"

More in this section