Independent Senator Sir Roy Trotman has thrown his support behind the Employment Sexual Harassment (Prevention) Bill, 2017 which seeks to prevent the “use of sexually suggestive words, comments, jokes, gestures or actions that annoy, alarm or abuse a person”.
Under the legislation, which was piloted by Minister of Labour Senator Esther Byer-Suckoo in the Upper House of Parliament earlier today, “the initiation of uninvited physical contact with a person . . . unwelcome sexual advances or the requests of sexual favours . . . 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” may be deemed sexual harassment.
While acknowledging that the Bill took more than 12 years to come to Parliament, Sir Roy said it was common knowledge that sexual harassment was alive and well at workplaces across Barbados.
However, he warned that the new Bill would not act as a panacea.
“One has got to recognize that the mere passage of a piece of legislation is not going to remove misbehaviour or that abusive behaviour from within the environment. Simply because we have got the law, will not mean that there will not be actors who will not seek to apply whatever clever trade they have, but who will also endeavour to use whatever skills or power they have to thwart the ways of justice,” the ex-Barbados Workers’ Union General Secretary cautioned.
However, he said “there must be concern that complainants’ rights are not unduly swayed in one direction or another.
“I can only speak of the sufferings that have been made to me, and the awareness I have that many people have had cases where they could not take the pressure, not because they are weak, but because of their circumstances, and who are therefore forced to discontinue proceedings, thus wasting the time of the court, thwarting the course of justice and leading to a position where the wrongdoer can continue to practise his wrongdoing,” Sir Roy said.
However, the veteran trade unionist suggested that in a case where the actual complainant was afraid, another person could be used as the whistle-blower.
“I believe that we are all our neighbours’ keepers and that we all have responsibility to protect the community in which we live. When there are those near us and around us who are not capable of helping themselves, then there must be others within our community who are able to render that assistance,” Sir Roy said.
However, the independent Senator suggested that additional personnel might be needed to allow the Labour Department to address sexual harassment complaints in a timely fashion.