The Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) says it supports Government’s new sexual harassment legislation, but today blasted the Freundel Stuart administration, accusing it of “window dressing” as the country nears a general election.
Member of Parliament for St George South Dwight Sutherland led the Opposition’s response in the Lower House to the measure, which was passed in the Upper Chamber earlier this week.
Sutherland, who was particularly critical of his immediate political opponent, Minister of Labour Senator Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo, who piloted the bill in the Senate, said he was “amazed at the malaise that has existed in the Ministry of Labour for the past ten years as it relates to sexual harassment.
“But you can come now and tell me that you are bringing four or five pieces of legislation, especially the sexual harassment legislation on the eve of an election,” he said.
“This is where my difficulty comes with the Democratic Labour Party. You are window dressing as it relates to this legislation. You had ten years from 2008 to present to address the whole policy statement and the code of conduct, training and sensitization within the public service – the largest employer – and you did nothing,” Sutherland told the Lower Chamber.
“It has been painful to watch this struggle to address legislation and reform by this Government . . . . Nine years of lethargy and nothing done as it relates to sexual harassment legislation,” he insisted, while pointing out that it was the former BLP administration that had defined sexual harassment in an amendment to the Public Service Act and had made it an offence for which public officers could be dismissed.
Sutherland said it was therefore regrettable that Government had taken so long to address the legislation in shaping workplace priorities.
“We are glad it is here and we support this legislation, but do not let us window dress and try to behave as if the Minister of Labour has all of a sudden awakened because she has recognized that she has lost the battle a long time,” he said of Byer-Suckoo who he unseated in St George South in the last general election in 2013.
“I run marathons, I don’t do 100 metre sprints,” he further warned Byer-Suckoo, who is expected to oppose him again in the constituency once the election bell is rung.
“You can’t just wake up and decide you are going to rush the Prime Minister to rush in all these legislation just to make it appear as if the Minister of Labour is doing something,” he stressed.
And while Sutherland repeated the Opposition’s support of the bill, he expressed considerable reservation with the increased responsibility being placed on the office of the Chief Labour Officer (CLO).
According to him, the CLO’s office was already burdened with its traditional duties as well as those imposed by the Employment Rights Act.
During his hour-long presentation, he cited several issues with the bill in its present form.
He told the House that victims should be given more than what is currently prescribed under the sexual harassment law to write to the employer and to make a formal complaint to the CLO.
“Three months is a very short time and when you look at an employee suffering from depression . . . home from work and being [ashamed] as a result of the sexual harassment . . . I think three months is a very short time because that is your recovery time.
“I think this should be increased and it should be a minimum of three months and a maximum of a year,” he contended.