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Hayward calls for action on harassment

Jason Hayward (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

A union leader called for an end to sexual harassment in the workplace yesterday as he prepared to mark an international day to end violence against women this weekend.

Jason Hayward, the Bermuda Public Services Union president, said victims can suffer “miserable and even dangerous” working environments and most cases of sexual harassment were not reported.

He urged employers to take action where necessary and to ensure that sexual harassment policies are shared with staff.

Mr Hayward said: “In Bermuda, cases of sexual harassment in the workplace go largely unreported.

“However, women, far more often than men, are the objects of sexually harassing behaviour.

“The effects of sexual harassment on its victims are well documented. Studies routinely confirm that most are upset by it and that many experience feelings ranging from irritation and nervousness to anger, powerlessness and humiliation.”

He added: “Research has shown that victims can eventually become ill when subjected to sexual harassment on a regular basis, particularly where it is perpetrated by a supervisor, involves sexual coercion, or takes place over a long period of time or in a male-dominated setting.

“It has been found to trigger a wide range of ailments, including stress-related illnesses, high blood pressure and depression.”

Mr Hayward’s was speaking as the BPSU prepared to join people and organisations all over the world on Sunday to support the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

He said a declaration issued by the UN General Assembly in 1993 defined violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women”.

This included “threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty whether occurring in public or in private life”.

Mr Hayward said: “The BPSU would like to specifically call for an end to the sexual harassment of women in the world of work.

“Sexual harassment is a hazard encountered in workplaces across the world that reduces the quality of working life, jeopardises the wellbeing of women and undermines gender equality.”

He said sexual harassment was defined by Bermuda’s 1981 Human Rights Act as “sexual comment or sexual conduct towards that other which is vexatious and which he knows, or ought reasonably to know, is unwelcome”.

Mr Hayward said there was a minimum of two steps that employers should take.

He said business heads should “develop, endorse and communicate to all employees a sexual harassment policy within the working environment”.

Mr Hayward added: “This should be disseminated to all employees during recruitment and induction.”

The second action was to “take effective and appropriate remedial action if sexual harassment occurs”.

Mr Hayward said: “The BPSU has sought to raise awareness, support targeted persons and promote workplaces free of bullying and harassment.

“Through the union’s educational programmes, we have trained shop stewards to identify negative behaviours and provided them with the necessary tools to respond to harassment in the workplace.

“The union also ensures that workplaces have adequate anti-harassment policies.

“It is important for employees to know their rights and the channels to use in the event of an incident of sexual harassment.”