Even if a company has the best policy against sexual harassment in the workplace, if it is not supported by upper management, all attempts to safeguard employees will be in vain, chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) attorney Lynette Seebaran-Suite said yesterday.
She called for proper legislation to deal with the problem, adding that unequal power relations must also be addressed.
“You can have the most elaborate, the most beautifully articulated policy dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace but if the organisation itself at the very highest level is not committed or is not involved to deal with the problem of sexual harassment, those unequal power relations between the victim and perpetrator will always conspire to prevent the victim from having to come forward with the complaint,” she said.
Seebaran-Suite spoke at a lunchtime forum, BoardRoom Bullies, hosted by UWI’s Institute for Gender and Development Studies at the Institute of International Relations in St Augustine yesterday.
Dominating the discussion was the sexual harassment allegations made by a female executive against the chairman of Angostura Holdings Limited Dr Rolph Balgobin in November 2016.
In October, following an internal investigation, the company’s board of directors dismissed the allegations, after which the executive was fired.
Seebaran-Suite said there is no specific legislation to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace in T&T but there are some remedies to address the issue, including a civil lawsuit for a breach of contract which she said is “very difficult to bring on.”
She said there are also provisions under Section 30 of the Offences Against a Person Act.
The EOC permits people to make complaints of sex discrimination in the workplace, including sexual harassment, she said.
Frances Bain-Cumberbatch, Group Corporate Secretary and Group Head of Legal at Ansa McAL, said the group had an excellent policy in place to speedily deal with sexual harassment in the workplace. She added that Ansa McAL is one of two companies in T&T with a formal written sexual harassment policy.
Bain-Cumberbatch described sexual harassment as a form of violence which should never be tolerated.
Head of Fixin T&T Kirk Waithe used the forum to renew his call for a nationwide boycott of Angostura products. The company has threatened legal action against Waithe in a pre-action protocol letter in which it is demanding an apology, payment for damage to its reputation and warns him against furthering his group’s campaign to boycott the company.
Waithe said the fired female executive not only readily submitted herself to a polygraph test but also passed. He said the matter was brought to a resolution just over a year after the allegations were made and questioned whether it was a case of the company probing itself.