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Sexual harassment caution

JEF welcomes Bill, but says it could bite Government

BY KIMONE FRANCIS
Senior staff reporter
francisk@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

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Jamaica Employers' Federation (JEF) President David Wan is contending that the Government could be stung by the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Bill when it becomes law.

“The Bill is welcomed by JEF, and we've been doing sensitisation even before the actual signing of this Bill. We think it's the right thing to do, but I believe the Government could be surprised at the amount of cases it has in its own shop,” Wan told editors and reporters during yesterday's Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange at the newspaper's head office in St Andrew.

Consultations on the legal treatment of sexual harassment began in the House of Representatives last Thursday, under the chairmanship of Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia “Babsy” Grange.

The Bill, formally entitled 'An Act to Make Provision for the Prevention of Sexual Harassment and for Connected Matters', was first charted by former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller as minister of labour and is currently being reviewed and amended by the current Government to fit the new legal environment.

Yesterday, Wan pointed out that globally, sexual harassment has proven to be uncontrolled in public sector organisations.

“The world over, it is proven that a lot of harassment takes place in these high-ranking organisations such as the military, the police [and] the correctional services. I just hope it doesn't get back in the Government's face with a lot of harassment charges coming out of those institutions,” Wan cautioned.

The Bill defines sexual harassment as the “making of any unwelcome sexual advance towards a person by another person which is reasonably regarded as offensive or humiliating by the person towards whom the sexual advance is made, or has the effect of interfering unreasonably with the work performance of the person to whom the sexual advance is made, or creating an intimidating, offensive or a hostile work environment”.

Meanwhile, public relations chair of the Jamaica Psychological Society Rosemarie Voordouw admitted that a sexual harassment law will be difficult to enforce.

“You go to the lunchroom and every day you're eating alone with Amy. Amy says, 'You know, boy, you look so hot in your pants I'd like to take them off'. Nobody else is there to hear. Unless you are recording on your phone, what evidence are you going to bring to this? In small companies where the boss is the harasser, which process do you go through?

“So sexual harassment is not an easy law, I think, to enforce. For example, you are told you look nice but because of how your values and beliefs are, no man should tell you how you look nice, so you consider that harassment. It is unwanted, but nobody heard him tell you that you look nice today. How do we enforce this?” Voordouw questioned.

Because of this, senior director at the Bureau of Gender Affairs Sharon Coburn Robinson said recommendation has been made to include in the Bill a provision for authorised officers who would be able to investigate a complaint.

“Listen to the persons who have been aggrieved. So this person was in the lunchroom but there was no witness. There might not even have been a camera; nobody recorded it. It's your word against this person who made the harassment. The investigation should take place so that the person who is harassed is able to lay out very clearly what took place and give dates, and all of that. Once that has happened, then the information will be fed to the sexual harassment tribunal which will make a decision in terms of how it is going to be treated,” Coburn Robinson explained.


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