A hotline will be set up for people who want to report sexual harassment on the job as well as to receive complaints from migrants and domestic workers.
This is one of the initiatives the Labour Ministry has proposed a policy to curb sexual harassment at the workplace.
Labour Ministry Chief Labour Relations Officer Sabina Gomez detailed aspects of the policy yesterday when Ministry officials and other stakeholders appeared before a Parliamentary Oversight committee (Human Rights, Equality, Diversity) on the matter.
The focus was on how workers are and will be further protected. However, a call also came from Equal Opportunity Commission chairperson Lynette Seebaran-Suite for any policy to deal with non-disclosure agreements where employers pay-off victims who are forced to keep silent.
Gomez said the Ministry's proposed a hotline for people to report sexual harassment. Via this, the Ministry will also be able to monitor/follow up on callers' issues, track how issues are addressed and if callers are pleased with the action taken.
On concerns from Folade Mutota (Women's Institute for Alternative Development) about complaints from domestic and migrant workers, Gomez assured the policy covers household workers and the Ministry collaborates closely with the National Union of Domestic Workers (NUDE).
Mutota also called for the Ministry's policy to ensure gay and effeminate men are protected from sexual harassment. Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO) director Colin Robinson who was among observers yesterday told Guardian Media his organisation has received reports of such men being subjected to harassment in the workplace including because of their sexiual orientation.
Gomez said the Ministry liaises with Living Water Community on migrant workers. She said once migrants are employed, whether they are in T&T legally or illegally, they are entitled to protection.
Gomez said workers currently don't need a union to represent them and could approach the Ministry. They are advised to write the employer about the issue and the Ministry would follow up. She noted a case where a worker was harassed by a colleague and the resident union represented the harasser - plus the victim was targetted by colleagues who objected to her reporting the matter.
Ministry legal officer Sangeeta Bondoo said the policy will apply to all workers- not just companies with five or more employees. It's now at the drafting stage. She couldn't give a timeline for completion but said it is a top priority. Boondoo said enforcement conditions will be included with requirements for employers.
She said changes have been noted on how courts are handling such matters and "people are finding a voice."
The Ministry received reports of 16 cases of sexual harassment in the past 10 years.
Womantra's Stephanie Leitch said this speaks to the gravity of the problem "as we know women are being abused on a regular basis."
EOC's Seebaran-Suite said 20 per cent of EOC's complaints involved sex discrimination issues including five sexual harassment matters. She said employers face a $1,000 a day fine for failing to supply EOC information.
She expressed concern about situations where a manager - for example- may be seen to be of more value than an employee victim who may be later "managed out" of the job via warning letters. One remedy has been the public perception of a person being forced out and subsequent public threats to stop buying the product, she noted.
"So one thing we must examine is how we walk the complainant through the process. There's also the big issue of non-disclosure agreements where employers have pools of money to pay off women who have been harassed. Women are forced to keep silent, the harasser continues to harass and the women disappear. It's a question of how do you get employers to eradicate this mischief?"
Seebaran- Suite added EOC is working with Government on amendments to the EOC Act towards remedies concerning the workplace.
T&T Institute for Women in Leadership's Hazel Brown said there was little in the policy for trade unions' role.
"It's significant that among us today, there are no trade unions," she said.
JSC member Hazel Thompson-Ahye noted in the well-known Republic Bank case, the accused was union-represented, "So I don't know what comfort unions can give."
Thompson-Ahye recommended the Ministry incorporate the media to share information and seek the assistance of women on television for this.
Employers' Consultative Association CEO Stephanie Fingal called for all parties to share synergies on the policy since she said there are challenges in literacy and employers in understanding the issues.