An independent senator is warning that the Employment Sexual Harassment (Protection) Bill 2017 must not be seen as a vehicle for banning jokes or touching in the workplace.
Instead, Lady Carol Haynes, whose professional title is Dr Carol Jacobs, said the measure must be seen as a means to protect vulnerable men and women at work.
“The fact is within a workplace it is very possible to make risqué jokes, to tease someone without it either being [offensive]. That is where I will ask for sensitivity in the trainer of trainers because we do not want a workplace where people believe you cannot touch a specific lady, or make a joke in front of her. That is not what we are trying to do with this bill. What we are trying to do is to protect women and sometimes men who are in vulnerable positions. We want to ensure that we still have a workplace where we can enjoy ourselves and we can have good repartee,” she told the Senate today as she threw her support behind the legislation.
The bill, which was piloted by Minister of Labour Senator Esther Byer-Suckoo in Parliament last week, seeks to prevent the “use of sexually suggestive words, comments, jokes, gestures or actions that annoy, alarm or abuse a person”.
Under the legislation “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.
In announcing last month that the legislation was under way, Byer-Suckoo had told a campaign meeting of the Democratic Labour Party in St George South that it was “not about locking people because a man ‘psst’ at a woman . . . It is about ensuring that a person’s rights are protected and a person can function in dignity”.
Today, Lady Haynes said it was critical that timeframes, as well as proper procedures and indicators were put in place to monitor the impact of the legislation.
Critically, she added, there must be emphasis on eliminating sexual harassment in the workplace altogether.
“I think the bill spells out that because it mentions prevention, but I think where we need to go is creating a culture where managers do not have to be dealing with harassment issues on a regular basis,” the former chairman of the National HIV/AIDS Commission said.
In fact, Lady Haynes said the bill was a good takeoff point from which to start thinking of tolerance and acceptance of people living with HIV/AIDS, gay men and lesbians, even though Byer-Suckoo made it clear that Government was not opening the door to legalizing homosexuality.