Tue | Jan 26, 2021

Household workers union head bats for stronger sexual harassment law

Published:Friday | December 4, 2020 | 4:28 PM
President of the Household Workers Union, Shirley Pryce - (file photo)

The proposed Sexual Harassment Act, 2020 came in for scathing criticisms for its short-sightedness, glaring omissions and failure to address critical aspects of the very sensitive issue it seeks to address, from president of the Household Workers Union, Shirley Pryce, when it came for review before a joint select committee of Parliament on Thursday.

Pryce says sexual harassment in the workplace should be a criminal offence instead of a civil matter, as is currently proposed in the draft legislation.

In addition, she wants the scope of the legislation to be expanded to target relatives and friends of the household helper’s employer as potential perpetrators.

“Labour inspectors do not have access to monitor working conditions in this private workspace, which makes it even more difficult. The amendment bill therefore needs to take these factors into account to address the needs of domestic workers. So we are asking for you to extend the scope of the bill to include not only employers, supervisors and co-workers as perpetrators of sexual harassment but also sexual harassment by employers’ relatives and even friends.

“Domestic workers, particularly those who live-in with their employers, sometimes face threats of sexual harassment from their employers’ relatives and friends who happen to be living in the same household or even come visiting. I know that very well. I was a domestic worker for 31 years so I can speak to that and I’ve got a lot complaints in our union as well.”

Pryce argued further that the maximum penalty should be so severe that it serves as a deterrent for would-be harassers. 

While the proposed law views sexual harassment as a civil matter, for the women who undergo the trauma and humiliation of that experience, she says it needs to be upgraded sufficiently so that the perpetrators are forced to think twice when contemplating this crime.

“We support the call for an extension to the time given for victims to report cases of sexual harassment. Twelve months is too short when you consider the psychological trauma the victim experiences.”

The union president also called for the establishment of a registry of sexual harassment offenders similar to the sex offenders registry.

Meanwhile, Government Senator Dr Sapphire Longmore, in supporting Pryce’s call for the expansion of the bill to target other categories of workers operating in the same space such as gardeners, electricians, landscapers and other tradesmen, described her input as “very insightful’.”

However, on the question of the registry, she said that would require more thought.

“At the time, we have to recognise that sexual harassment is not, or is not yet a criminal offence, so a registry is a very permanent step to go, [but] it is food for thought."

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