SINGAPORE: The Labour Movement is pushing for a set of tripartite guidelines to help employers deal with workplace harassment. This follows a new law passed last year which makes harassment an offence – both physically and online.
While the Protection from Harassment Act lays out a range of civil remedies and criminal sanctions, some groups say it still falls short of addressing harassment at the workplace.
The new anti-harassment law criminalises stalking and and makes it clear that as long as an act is threatening, abusive, insulting and causes distress to victims, it is harassment. It also covers workplaces, workers and even has a special mention on public servants – especially those in the frontline.
Mr Patrick Tay, Assistant Secretary-General at NTUC, said it would cover, for example, public healthcare workers and employees as well as public transport workers – including SMRT drivers, bus drivers and taxi drivers.
“We have in the past couple of years, cases where some of our frontline transport workers or frontline healthcare workers having to face the brunt of insulting, threatening or even abusive words from members of the public,” he said. “So this act is timely and with this addition of a more deterrent sentence, if committed against public service workers, it will help create a more safe, harmonious workplace for these workers.”
NO LEGAL OBLIGATIONS FOR EMPLOYERS TO PREVENT HARASSMENT
Workplace harassment comes in various forms. It could be verbal abuse – using insulting words on a co-worker – or physical and sexual abuse.
Women’s advocacy group AWARE said of the 75 sexual harassment cases it received last year (2014), 61 involved workplaces. In the first month of this year alone, there have been three complaints so far involving workplaces.
Senior manager of AWARE’s programmes and communications Jolene Tan said: “The perpetrator is typically staff that is senior to the victim – perhaps the boss or the supervisor – and it can span a whole range of behaviour, from persistent unwanted sexualised remarks or requests or messages through Skype or WhatsApp, or unwanted gifts or in more physical cases, touching, pressure for sexual favours.”
While the law protects workers by defining what constitutes harassment, it does not impose specific legal obligations on employers to prevent workplace harassment. That is why the Labour Movement wants to introduce tripartite guidelines on this by the end of the year. It is looking for a set of protocols agreed by the unions, employers and the Government.
Mr Tay said: “To encourage employers to have specific guidelines and practices in their workplace – including reporting – whenever there’re cases of harassment or abusive behaviour, etc, so that employees can have some recourse, internally within the company.
“We hope that through this advisory, employers will be encouraged to work out a set of procedures in workplaces across Singapore so that in the event there are cases of harassment, the worker can have recourse with higher authority, superiors, supervisors or the HR department.”
MORE IMPETUS FOR STAFF TO REPORT HARASSMENT
Such guidelines will help mitigate any uncertainty and fear in victims, over whether or not to bring up a case.
Ms Tan said: “That’s a very tricky question for many people, precisely because there aren’t clear guidelines. If an employer is very clear – we want to create a harassment-free environment, this is who you talk to if you are uncertain about something – then people who feel discomforted about the way things are going will feel more entitled to tell the other party to stop and, if the other party doesn’t stop, raise it with the organisation. The hope is that they can come to an amicable solution, so that everyone can keep working.
“Unfortunately, a lot of people are unsure … ‘Am I over-reacting? I’ve told him to stop but he keeps doing it and everybody seems to think this is normal, maybe I’m over-reacting.’ So there’s that self doubt but even when they realise that something is definitely wrong, there is doubt whether the employer will take them seriously,” she said.
Ms Tan added: “So there is that fear which actually results in quite a few cases where people just resign, and the company doesn’t even know that they’ve lost a good employee because nothing was said. They’ve never said to the employee: ‘We care about this, talk to us.’ So it’s very difficult for people to know that they can do that unless employers say so.”
In the meantime, NTUC, together with the Law Society, will hold a series of talks to engage workers so they are aware of their rights, what constitutes harassment and the remedies they can take over the course of the year.
For help with sexual harassment cases, one can go to http://sacc.aware.org.sg or call AWARE’s Sexual Assault Care Centre hotline at 6779-0282.
news source & image credits: channelnewsasia.com