Combating Harassment At Workplace

By Malik Siraj Akbar

It was reassuring to hear provincial minister for women’s welfare, Ms. Ghazala Gola, promise in a seminar organized by the Aurat Foundation that she would start the implementation of the “Protection Against Harassment of Women At The Work Place Act 2010″ from her own office by displaying a list comprising of the salient features of the bill.

Passed in March 2010, the bill against harassment at work place is surely a remarkable legislative initiative taken by the government to provide constitutional and legal protection to women working at different offices. It has been four months since the bill was passed.

It has still not been properly propagated among the masses yet. Even the heads of different government and non-government organizations and women working at these places are equally not fully acquainted with the nature of the bill and means to benefit from its contents. There is surely an urgent need to create awareness among the members of the society, both males and females, about the anti-harassment bill so that women feel more secure at workplace and men with negative attitude towards female colleagues at workplace are alerted.

According to the bill, “harassment” means any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favors or other verbal or written communication or physical conduct of a sexual nature or sexually demeaning attitudes, causing interference with work performance or reacting an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment, or the attempt to punish the complainant for refusal to comply to such a request or is made a condition for employment.”

A working woman can now lodge a complaint against harassment at workplace with the competent authority of her office. The submission of a complaint will lead to the formation of an inquiry committee within the organization to probe into the matter. Each organization is required to constitute an inquiry committee within thirty (30) days after receiving a complaint. The committee shall consist of three (3) members of whom at least one member shall be a woman. One member shall be from senior management and one shall be a senior representative of the employees or a senior employee where there is no Collective Bargain Agent (CBA), as provided in the Industrial Relations Act 2008 (IV of 2008).

Soon after initiating work, the committee will communicate with the accused – an employee or employer of an organization against who complaint has been made under this act – the charges and the statement of allegations leveled against him, the formal written receipt of which will be given. The accused will be required to give a written defense within seven days of charges made against him, failure of which would lead to the formal commencement of inquiry into the matter.

Harassment against women, after the findings of the inquiry committee against the accused, may lead to minor or major penalties. “Minor penalties”, as enshrined in the Bill, include censure, withholding, for a specific period, promotion or increment; stoppage, for a specific period, at an efficiency bar in the time-scale, otherwise than for unfitness to cross such bar and recovery of the compensation payable to the complainant from pay for any other source of the accused. Significantly, “major penalties” prescribed in the Bill include reduction to a lower post or time-scale, or to a lower stage in a time-scale; compulsory retirement; removal from services; dismissal from service and fine: A part of the fine can be used as compensation for the complainant. In case of the owner, the fine shall be payable to the complainant.

A complainant aggrieved by the decision of the competent authority can also appeal within thirty (30) days of the decision to the Ombudsman. (Feminists insist this has to be an Ombudswoman).

The Bill further states that it shall be the responsibility of the employer to ensure implementation of this act. The management of an organization, company or department, will have to display copies of the Code in English as well as in language understood by the majority of the employees at conspicuous place in the organization and work place within six months of the commencement of the Act –the failure of which could lead to registration of a case at district court and fine which may extend to one hundred thousand rupees but not less than twenty-five thousand rupees.

The government and different organizations should collectively work to ensure the smooth implementation of the this bill which is very significant in the context of Balochistan where the number of women working at offices is abysmally low. Parents have multiple concerns and reservations while granting permission to their daughters to work at offices. Such legislation, if practiced and implemented wholeheartedly, will tremendously assist in empowering and safeguarding working women.

(This article originally appeared in The Baloch Hal, the first online English language newspaper of Balochistan)

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