Tuesday 23 July, 2019

Minister: Procedures in place for sexual harassment

The Office of the Prime Minister said it takes all allegations of sexual harassment very seriously, and that there are measures in place to deal with issues involving sexual harassment. 

The Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister, Ayanna Webster-Roy, issued the statement on Monday following sexual harassment allegations against former Sport and Youth Affairs Minister, now Minister in the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, Darryl Smith.

Webster-Roy referred to the National Policy on Gender and Development which was recently laid in Parliament as a green paper for comment, adding that all citizens and staff members at all government offices are required to "treat each others with dignity, courtesy and respect. 

"The Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago takes all allegations of sexual harassment seriously and is committed to providing information, resources and clear direction to all members of staff and stakeholders both internally and externally, so that together, we can help prevent and address this conduct."

"This Government is committed to assisting victims or complainants of this misconduct through various available support services such as the Employee Assistance Programme," she said.

Webster-Roy added that sexual harassment is a 'specific and serious form of harassment' which should be reported. 

"Sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual behaviour, which could be expected to make a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated. It is specific and a serious form of harassment which can lead to a hostile work environment."

"All members of staff have the same rights and responsibilities in relation to sexual harassment. Failure to object to inappropriate behaviour in the workplace when it occurs, it does not imply consent. So the onus is on each employee to conduct themselves appropriately and in accordance with the established code of conduct for the Public Service," Webster-Roy said.

She said government must ensure that women and men are allowed to work free of sexual harassment, sex-gender discrimination and other gender-based misconduct by "promoting and fostering a safe environment, which complies with the Equal Opportunity and Occupational Health and Safety Acts, and more recently the National Policy on Gender and Development".

"All persons in Trinidad and Tobago, all members of staff and all Ministers of Government in a workplace are required to treat others with dignity, courtesy and respect," she said. 

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Webster-Roy added that there are procedures in place to address issues of sexual harassment.

"Government recognises its obligation to provide a safe and respectful environment for staff and clients in the public sector; the private sector has a similar obligation to its staff and clients."

"While there are procedures in place to lodge complaints of sexual harassment in several agencies of Government, and some may even have a policy, having had to address the matter in the past, the Government recognises the need for an overarching policy."

Webster-Roy said government will expedite the drafting of the National Sexual Harassment Policy which is currently being worked on by the Ministry of Labour and Small Enterprise Development.

She added that the Office of the Attorney General is collaborating with the Office of the Prime Minister (Gender and Child Affairs Division) and the Equal Opportunity Commission to identify areas within the legislative framework that are in need of strengthening to better protect the nation's workforce.

Following media reports detailing sexual harassment under Smith's position as minister of Sport and Youth Affairs, in a surprise move on Monday, Smith was reassigned to the position of Junior Minister while Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley assumed the position of Minister of Housing and Urban Development.

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However, in an update on Tuesday, the Office of the Prime Minister announced that Smith's appointment had been revoked pending an investigation into the matter. 

Several other reassignments took place, with former Tourism Minister Shamfa Cudjoe being reassigned as Minister of Youth and Sport Affairs, and former Housing Minister Randall Mitchell re-assigned as Minister of Tourism.

Marlene McDonald was reassigned as Minister of Public Administration and Communications while Maxie Cuffie was reassigned as a Minister within that Ministry. 


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