Government today introduced new legislation in the Senate with a view to stamping out sexual harassment in the workplace.
In piloting the Employment Sexual Harassment (Prevention) Bill, 2017 in the Upper House earlier today, Minister of Labour Senator Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo said Barbadians “have to have the right to work without fear of molestation, harassment [or] fear of any kind in the workplace”.
Stating that she knows of older women, men and young people who complain of sexual harassment in the workplace, Byer-Suckoo said, “we have to be able to say to them by virtue of this legislation, it stops now”.
She explained that under the Bill, the “use of sexually suggestive words, comments, jokes, gestures or actions that annoy, alarm or abuse a person” may be considered sexual harassment, so too “the initiation of uninvited physical contact with a person; the initiation of unwelcome sexual advances or the requests of sexual favours from a person; asking a person intrusive questions that are of a sexual nature that pertain to that person’s private life; transmitting sexually offensive writing or material of any kind; making sexually offensive telephone calls to a person; or any other sexually suggestive conduct of an offensive nature”.
Byer-Suckoo explained the legislation was gender neutral and therefore “does not presuppose that the perpetrator is a man and the victim is a woman, but allows for those occasions where either could be the victim and either could be the perpetrator”.
She however hastened to add that the proposed law was not an opening for regulations making homosexuality legal.
“There is concern when we say gender neutral, when I speak to harassment of the vulnerable groups such as women, homosexual men, and lesbians . . . that I would hear in the public domain this is opening up the door to legalizing homosexuality.
“That is not the aim of this legislation. That is not what this legislation is doing,” she emphasized.
The Minister of Labour did, however, say that there were other pieces of legislation in the pipeline and among them was one on anti-discrimination, “coming right after this one to address . . . discrimination on the basis of gender”.
She explained that that bill would resemble the one on sexual harassment currently before the Senate but would also deal with, among other things, “discrimination on the basis of race and nationality because we do have persons of other nationalities and other races in workplaces”.
The Sexual Harassment Bill allows persons to confidentially lodge complaints with the Chief Labour Officer, which are to be subjected to mediation, before they are referred on to a tribunal if such arbitration fails.
Tribunal proceedings will be held ‘in camera’ and in cases where sexual harassment is proven compensation can be ordered for the victim.
In cases of dismissal, action including reinstatement may be taken as allowed in the Employment Rights Act.