Stop workplace sexual harassment for workplace safety
This letter from AWARE was published in the Straits Times Forum on June 15, 2012. Read the published version here.
We applaud Singapore’s ratification of the ILO Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Convention (“S’pore adopts ILO labour standards”, Straits Times, June 6, 2012), thereby signaling our commitment to policies that ensure workplace safety and health.
In its implementation of this framework, AWARE urges the Government to address an important aspect of employee health – workplace sexual harassment.
Workplace sexual harassment is prevalent in Singapore. In AWARE’s 2008 survey, 54 per cent of 500 respondents – men and women – were victims of workplace sexual harassment. The survey list comprised 19 instances of verbal, visual and physical forms of sexual harassment, like being subjected to sexually suggestive sounds, being forcibly kissed or hugged, and having their body parts stared at in a discomfiting way.
Current workplace legislation, including the Workplace Safety and Health Act and the Employment Act, are silent on this issue. This glaring oversight harms both the health of individual workers and overall business productivity.
The ILO emphasizes the promotion of mental health and well-being as integral to workplace health and safety. AWARE thus urges the Government to follow through on its commitment by providing explicit legal protection against sexual harassment.
The current law, which deals with this issue primarily through criminal law, is inadequate:
• Criminal remedies are often inappropriate as they aim to punish the offender, rather than to compensate the victim and to provide him/her with a safe and health workplace, which is usually what the victim seeks.
• Victims of workplace sexual harassment have very few options for seeking assistance and intervention. Most companies are not equipped to deal with workplace sexual harassment. MOM and TAFEP lack the authority to do so.
We need laws that:
(1) Provide explicit legal protection against workplace sexual harassment
(2) Impose affirmative duties for employers to take steps to prevent sexual harassment
(3) Establish/empower an administrative body to handle complaints and promote
application of the law
(4) Provide a wide range of civil remedies and sanctions to victims of sexual harassment.
The negative impact of workplace sexual harassment on Singaporean society cannot be under-estimated. AWARE’s receives several calls each month from victims of workplace sexual harassment. Psychosocial hazards are as damaging to health as physical hazards.
Our workplace statutes must protect against workplace sexual harassment if we are to comply with the ILO Framework that we have just signed.