Employers urged to create safe working environment

Every employer has an obligation to create a safe and conducive environment to fight the burden of harassment in the workplace.

International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) Minister, Dr Naledi Pandor, stressed that this duty rests on every employer.

Speaking during a virtual meeting on Violence and Harassment in the World of Work on Monday, Pandor said South Africa has since adopted a policy on sexual harassment aimed at maintaining a working environment in which the dignity of employees is respected.

“The policy is also aimed at ensuring that a conducive environment is created wherein victims of sexual harassment do not feel that their grievances are ignored or trivialised,” the Minister explained.

Meanwhile, this is supported by the Employment Equity Act, No 55 of 1998, with amendments to the Code of Good Practice on the Handling of Sexual Harassment Cases in the Workplace.

“The code encourages and promotes the development and implementation of policies and procedures that will lead to the creation of workplaces that are free of sexual harassment, where employers and employees respect one another’s integrity and dignity, their privacy, and their right to equity in the workplace.”

In addition, the department is forging ahead with a T-Shirt methodology in the fight against Gender-Based Violence (GBV).

“T-Shirts methodology is not about wearing T-Shirts but embracing a new approach of breaking silence, taking action and being counted-in against Gender-Based Violence.”

Pandor has described violence and harassment at the work as a widespread phenomenon in the public and private sectors, which deprive employees of their dignity and a gross violation of human rights.

“One of the key high-level actions that the President [Cyril] Ramaphosa identified in his AU Chairship Gender Agenda was the need to combat GBV as a barrier to development and gender equality.”

This year, South Africa is observing the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children campaign under the theme: ‘Economic Justice for a Non-Violent and Non-Sexist South Africa’.

“This theme signals our belief that women’s economic empowerment is integral to the achievement of gender equality and the eradication of Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF).”

Impact of COVID-19

Meanwhile, Pandor has highlighted the COVID-19 pandemic, which has also ushered in unprecedented health, social and economic crisis.

According to the Minister, the outbreak continues to have a profound impact on the lives of all in Africa especially women.

“It has simultaneously ushered in new challenges in the world of work. In the context of lockdowns, it has reshaped where work happens expanding where violence can take place in both the formal and informal economies.”

Also, the pandemic has worsened harmful gender stereotypes coupled with financial challenges and unemployment contributing to increased levels of GBV.

“In the context of many working from home and using Information and Communication Technology, this has also increased the potential of cyberbullying,” she said.

Meanwhile, in Africa, where most women work in the informal sector, it has had a significant impact on livelihoods.

“We have read, heard and seen the increasing violence targeted at women in their homes during a time when homes were supposed to be places of safety under lockdown.

“This led to President Ramaphosa recognising the devastating increase in violence and femicide perpetrated against women and children and declaring it a national pandemic that is ravaging the South African society.”

Citing the report on the Status of Women in South Africa released by the International Women’s Forum in 2011, most women leave their jobs because of violence and harassment in the workplace or abused by their partners.

“Sometimes they are forced to leave certain environments to escape abuse or run away from an abusive relationship or an abusive working environment.”

Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action

his year, the global community celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a blueprint for achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment.

The Beijing Declaration states: “The experience of sexual harassment is an affront to a worker’s dignity and prevents women from making a contribution commensurate with their abilities”.

It calls on “governments, employers, trade unions, community and youth organisations and non-governmental organisations to take action, as appropriate, to develop programmes and procedures to eliminate sexual harassment and other forms of violence against women in all educational institutions, workplaces and elsewhere.”

Meanwhile, she believes that this South Africa’s opportunity to vigorously drive ratification and implementation of the International Labour Organisation Convention No. 190 (ILO C190) and Recommendation No. 206.

“This convention recognises the right of everyone to a world free from violence and harassment, including Gender-Based Violence.”

It recommends that national governments adopt laws, regulations and policies to ensure equality and non-discrimination in the workplace including workplace policies on violence and harassment.

“It also includes how intimate-partner violence affects women’s employment and employability, productivity, health and safety.”