JEF, industry players welcome sexual harassment Bill


JEF, industry players welcome sexual harassment Bill

Senior staff reporter

Monday, December 09, 2019

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WITH discussions on a proposed sexual harassment Bill by a joint parliamentary committee just over a week old, industry players are welcoming the advance, noting that Jamaica has been trailing its Caribbean counterparts for far too long.

Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Minister Olivia Grange, in July this year, tabled the provisions, resulting from decades of agitation for sexual harassment concerns in the workplace and other spaces to be addressed. It, among other things, establishes a Sexual Harassment Tribunal to hear the complaints of aggrieved individuals and makes sexual harassment gender-neutral.

President of the 340-member strong Jamaica Employers' Federation David Wan, speaking with the Jamaica Observer last week at the newspaper's Beechwood Avenue, St Andrew, head offices, said the legislation was celebrated for several reasons.

“The trade unions and the Government have signed a pact relating to the International Labour Organization, which says we will adhere to the concept of a decent work agenda which includes no discrimination, no harassment, a decent wage, and so on. Another reason we are happy to see this is that multinational corporations, especially those from the United States, if they see certain things absent from the workplace here they might change their minds about investing here. We endorse this; it's not perfect but it is a good sign,” Wan said.

Meanwhile, legal officer in the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Georgette Grant admitted that the Government is late, but said the intention is to push through the legislation in short order.

“We are late to the start, and a lot of our Caribbean neighbours have made quite a bit of advancement where this particular issue is concerned, but nevertheless we are here and it is the intention of the ministry to really get this Bill, soon to be an Act, operationalised so that all the disenfranchised individuals can have protection,” Grant said.

She said while the provision “is not meant to be retroactive, it will certainly curb a lot of those things that are happening to persons without protection”.

For senior director at the Bureau of Gender Affairs Sharon Coburn Robinson, the birth of the provision is a high point.

“Sexual harassment is very topical and has been on the agenda for several years. So many persons have complained about it and for so many years it has been swept under the rug and trivialised — and many persons have suffered silently in so many ways,” she said.

She said, too, that efforts were being made to educate Jamaicans as to what constitutes harassment.

“Just in case persons are wondering how would I identify whether or not this is sexual harassment, it's very dependent on the person's reaction and it is also dependent on the intentions and motives of the other individual. It might not be so obvious, and someone looking on might not be able to pick it up either, but the person to whom it is said, in most cases, can tell whether it is just out of friendly camaraderie or whether the person is making a sexual overture. There is a sexual undertone; the intention is to undress you or go further with you, so it is not just a compliment,” she noted.
Meanwhile, attorney-at-law Kwame Gordon also said the law was welcomed, and that it is viewed as “a step in the right direction”.

“It's long overdue in our view, but we are happy that we are where we are, and we are looking forward to working with the ministry and anyone else who wishes to see this legislation enforced,” he noted.

Rosemarie Voordouw, associate counselling psychologist and chair of JamPsych, said, after years of agitating for just such a provision, she was elated to see that it was being actualised.

“As someone who has worked in the corporate areas, small and large, for several years, I have seen sexual harassment at its ugliest. I recognise that our culture makes us accept sexual harassment more because our society is highly sexualised, and in some places, it is so endemic that it is considered the norm,” Voordouw, a former journalist noted.

“Many years ago, as a journalist, I advocated for a long time for a sexual harassment Bill and I am shocked, many years later — this was from the eighties — we are just here, but I am happy,” she told editors and reporters.

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