Bar Association, Chamber differ on who should handle sexual harassment cases


Bar Association, Chamber differ on who should handle sexual harassment cases

By Balford Henry
Senior staff reporter

Friday, July 03, 2020

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The Jamaican Bar Association (JBA) does not support the proposal to create an independent disputes tribunal to deal with sexual harassment cases.

Although the Bar Association and the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce teamed in making their submission to yesterday's meeting of the joint select committee reviewing the draft Sexual Harassment Bill, the lawyers seemed set on retaining the Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT) to handle the cases, while the chamber was willing to accept an independent body “with some tightening up”.

Emile Leiba, chairman of the JBA's Industrial Relations and Labour Law Sub-Committee, was not sure whether there would be enough cases to warrant an entirely new tribunal.

“We query whether there will be a sufficient volume of cases to support an entirely new sexual harassment tribunal,” he told the committee.

He also noted the requirement for one half the membership of the tribunal to be made up of women, suggesting that the tribunal should have equal provision for at least one half of the members to be male.

He said, too, that there were concerns that the proposed independent tribunal would not only overlap the jurisdiction of the IDT, in terms of cases like those including unjustifiable dismissal, but also specific concerns that the powers which are designated for such a tribunal might make it unconstitutional.

Chamber of Commerce President Lloyd Distant, however, noted that Leiba had pointed to some changes that could tighten up the Bill and make it more accommodating to all the parties, which he felt would be enough to ensure all- round support.

Government Senator Kavan Gayle, who is also president general of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union, objected to retaining the IDT to deal with sexual harassment issues.

The idea of an independent tribunal hearing the cases was the most substantial change brought by Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia Grange to the new Bill, which was tabled in 2019. It replaced the one which was piloted by former Prime Minister and Minister of Labour and Social Security Portia Simpson Miller in 2015 and which had selected the IDT as the ideal court for hearing these disputes.

The IDT currently hears only labour disputes.

Senator Gayle said the new legislation would broaden the scope of the tribunal, in terms of not just dealing specifically with the workplace, but to also treat with issues involving landlords and tenants, for example.

“Can you imagine the challenge that even a specific division of the tribunal would have in dealing with a dispute between a landlord and tenant? That's why the focus is to deal with these situations before a specific tribunal that is just singularly dealing with sexual harassment issues,” said Senator Gayle.

He was supported by Member of Parliament Horace Dalley, the Opposition spokesman on labour in the House of Representatives and a former labour minister.

Dalley said that while the Bill could not deal with all the legal issues affecting workers at this time, there would be room for improvement as time goes by, to make it the best possible legislation dealing with the issue of sexual harassment.

But the Bill has run into another road block, because after yesterday's meeting there were no more submissions to be dealt with.

This is the second time that it has run out of submissions, despite the fact that the committee has requested submissions from 22 social and economic institutions.

Grange told the Jamaica Observer that despite the 22 requests made late last year, including to Jamaicans For Justice (JFJ), only 16 of those bodies responded.

She said that riding with the interest generated by last week's “chuckle” issue involving Justice Minister Delroy Chuck, she sent out more invitations but has received only two responses — one from JFJ and one from the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions committing to making submissions. JFJ apologised for not responding to the first request.

Grange said the committee had also received a submission from Jamaica Association of Household Helpers. However, she said that it would not be possible to hold a meeting next week on the basis of just one submission.

“In the meantime, I have had to suspend the meetings again until we receive, at least, some of the 16 outstanding submissions. So we will look over the situation again by July 13,” she said.

Grange also pointed out that the 12-month period for reporting sexual harassment was a legacy from the original 2015 Bill, which she did not expect to be retained in the new Act.

Late yesterday, JFJ issued a news release saying that it had delivered to the committee copies of an open letter with 2,730 individual signatures and eight organisations responding to the 12-month limitation period on complaints related to sexual harassment.

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