The Caswell Franklyn Column – Sexual Harassment Legislation to Attract Votes NOT to Protect Vulnerable Workers
As far back as October 5, 1995 the Nation newspaper published a letter from me, asking the Government to introduce laws against sexual harassment in the workplace. It therefore came as welcomed news when I heard that debate on the Employment Sexual Harassment (Prevention) Bill had begun in the Senate.
I have always had a personal abhorrence to such behaviour since I would not have wanted any of my eight sisters to suffer through that abuse. Also, my devilish good looks made me a magnet for predators, male and female. Mind you, I am particularly proud of myself and can say that I had the strength to rebuff each and every one of the unwanted advances.
The legislation was long in coming but after all this time, I still have a keen interest in the subject, notwithstanding that one of my sisters is of blessed memory and the others are retired or approaching such. For myself, even though I still get the odd glance, I no longer fill the eyes of the sexual harasser. However, my graduation from the pool of potential victims has not diminished my passion to see adequate statutory protection put in place for victims.
Before reading the bill, I was happy because my desire for this type of legislation had finally come to fruition. I thought that the protection that I did not have, would be available to protect my grandchildren. Sadly, after going through the document, I am deflated. The legislation seems to be poorly thought out and appears to be a rush job to fill some kind of quota for elections.
At clause 32, the bill says, “This Act binds the Crown”. Ordinarily, I would have no difficulty with that provision but it forces me to question Government’s commitment to protecting its workers from sexual harassment. Since December 31, 2007 sexual harassment became an offence that merited dismissal, in accordance with paragraphs 22 and 27 of the Code of Conduct and Ethics. To date, Government has not put any procedures in place for its workers in ten years.
On behalf of one of our members, my union made a complaint of sexual harassment against a male officer, who was acting in one of the most senior post in the Public Service. The evidence against him was incontrovertible; he had reduced his lust to no fewer than 20 amorous hand-written notes. As his punishment, he was given a lateral transfer to another ministry. That should give some idea how seriously sexual harassment is viewed at the highest level.
This legislation is yet another example of how this administration staunchly refuses to lead by example. Rather than put regulations in place to mandate a process to guide employers, this bill requires each and every employer in Barbados to publish a policy statement against sexual harassment within the workplaces. According to the wording of the bill, this provision could apply to an employer with only one employee.
Failure to publish the statement within six months of the commencement of the act is a criminal offence and the employer would be liable on summary conviction to a fine of $5,000 or to imprisonment for 12 months or to both. This is certainly one way for Government to collect much needed revenue, without imposing another tax. Since this measure also applies to the Public Service, would we be seeing permanent secretaries and heads of department being hauled of to Dodds Prison, if they fail to meet the deadline.
To my mind, the most troubling aspect of this bill is clause 28. It states:
A person who makes a false complaint of sexual harassment against another person is guilty of an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of $10,000 or to imprisonment for a term of 2 years or to both.
Let’s say that a young lady made a complaint of sexual harassment against her boss, who had actually committed the offence. Nonetheless, she was unable to provide enough evidence to satisfy the tribunal. Would she be liable to pay a fine and or be imprisoned for making a false complaint? I sincerely hope that I have misinterpreted this clause, since it can serve as a major deterrent to persons making sexual harassment complaints.
My advice is that Government should go back to the drawing board and do it right next time.